Monday, September 1, 2014

September

I'm starting out this month with some writing goals.  Hopefully that will mean more posts here!

This morning I began the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible's Commentary on Exodus.  The introduction, commentary, and notes are by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.  Both are respected Biblical Scholars.  Dr. Hahn is a discretionary lay consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, among other things.  

I mention this because I was reminded this morning of the diversity of opinion regarding some aspects of the Bible I rarely hear when I attend Mass.  I frequently hear more modern ideas regarding authorship and date of many books of the Bible, explained in such a way one would think that was the only position available.  This is not the case.  For instance, when hearing about Exodus, one might hear that the book was not written by Moses; that it was compiled by a variety of authors over a vast amount of time.  The introduction to the ICSB Exodus notes:

The Catholic Church takes no definitive stance on the authorship and date of the Pentateuch.  A range of views regarding the birth and development of these books is permissible so long as the Church's teaching on biblical inspiration is maintained and nothing contrary to the faith is promoted.  That said, it is noteworthy that the Pontifical Biblical Commission examined the origin of the Pentateuch in the early twentieth century and concluded that modern theories of compilation (such as the Documentary Hypothesis) were not sufficiently strong to render the tradition of Mosaic authorship unlikely.

Why does this matter?  It may not if you're less interested in the history of the documents and have faith God did it, regardless of how we hear it was compiled.  If you're like me and get hung up on such details, then it is good to know that what you hear may not always reflect the "official" viewpoint of the Church.

I'm fascinated by the Bible and the history and everything about God's plan for our salvation.  Reading the Bible has deepened my faith and allowed me to see the big picture a lot more easily, though certainly not as clearly as I'd like. It also has helped at Mass, where knowing the context of the readings compared to the whole story is a huge help.  The first two studies here would help anyone understand the bigger picture.  I also really like A Father Who Keeps His Promises.  JP Catholic has Biblical Theology Certificates online, which I've recommended before, as well as Pillars of Catholicism for a free short video course on what we believe.  Take some time and open up your understanding of the Scriptures!

Friday, July 4, 2014

God's Peace vs My Will

I've often heard we don't get grace in our daydreams.  The things we think up that might happen or how we would respond do not include what the Holy Spirit might do.  I've often thought about this when reading of martyrs, going almost happily to torture and death.  Don't get me wrong - I would have every intention of dying for my faith if necessary.  I just think I'd be anxious and freak out and would not end up in any encouraging story about martyrdom.  My vision of that possibility doesn't include the Holy Spirit though.

This year I've had the opportunity to contrast some responses with God to some responses that were not quite as dependent upon Him.  There have been two distinct times I was absolutely certain my response was all God and not Julie.  The first came when a close friend told me she was pregnant.  That's usually a source of joy, but she's a young single woman.  That situation is obviously fraught with drama and problems and this has been no different.  At the time she told me though, I felt completely at peace in reaction.  I felt like I had a purpose in this story, like a divine mission.  I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do but I felt confident I could help.  Moments in life that prepared me for such a task came to mind even as we spoke.  I don't often feel confident I know what God wants me to do, but in this case I felt empowered and my overall immediate reaction was "Lets do this thing."

The second time I felt like this was just a few weeks ago.  I had prepared for months to take and pass a physical test I'd failed twice last summer.  I was certain I'd be successful.  The only thing I was nervous about was how well I'd do versus the standard.  I wanted to crush it!  Inexplicably, I got worse on the third attempt and failed yet again.  I don't really do well with failing, so it was with some shock I found myself completely fine with the outcome.  I'd been praying for guidance about my future, and this simply seemed like God was saying "No" to that particular path.  Within moments of failing, I had a list in my mind of all the positive things that had come from last year's failures and this year's preparation.  I wasn't sad or upset about failing but immensely thankful.  In fact, the only thing I cried over that day was the feelings I had when all my new friends were so supportive.  Nobody who knows me would have anticipated this response.  I sure did not.

In both cases I felt entirely at peace with the circumstances and outcome.  I was not worried about the future.  My focus was on God and all the positive things.

It would take less than a day for that feeling to change.  A day after my friend told me she was pregnant, I had a near panic attack at CrossFit in the middle of the workout.  It suddenly occurred to me I didn't actually know what I was doing.  How was I supposed to help her?  God clearly didn't see I wasn't qualified.  He had assigned the wrong person to this task.  The only thing on my mind was the future and what I was supposed to do in the weeks and months ahead.  I could only see disaster for my friend and her baby.  Instead of focusing on God and the positives, all I could think about were the negatives.  

A day after I failed that test, I still felt mostly okay about the "No" I felt I'd received, but was excessively anxious about what else I was supposed to do with my life.  If I wasn't supposed to go down that path, which path was I supposed to take?  Clearly I need a life goal at all times, and I didn't have one.  I was no longer sure what I'd be doing in three years and I was convinced that was a significant problem.  Waiting on God seemed like a terrifying idea that would only lead to more failure.  Fear supplanted thankfulness.

I stopped feeling at peace, I stopped feeling empowered, and all I could see was bad things in the future.  Instead of being in the moment I was daydreaming ahead, and I didn't take God with me.  It just didn't take long at all for me to try and yank back control and fear the future.

The moral of these experiences seems clear - trust God with the future and have peace.  Try to control the future and have anxiety.  Knowing is half the battle!  Of course the other half is pretty difficult, the part where I put it in practice.

 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Will this matter later?

I heard an excellent sermon once about sex.  Sex is always an exciting topic, isn't it?  I wonder if I'd get more visits to the blog if I wrote the word sex more in my posts!  Sex, sex, sex.

Anyway, the preacher was advocating against sex before marriage.  He brought up the fact a lot of young people think they're going to miss out on something.  He noted that even if we died without ever having sex, it isn't like we'd miss it in Heaven.  We won't spend eternity sitting around thinking, "man, I really wish I would have done that one thing I wasn't supposed to do at the time."

This is true for sex, but I've found it true for a lot of other things.  For instance, if I never get married, I'm not going to spend eternity thinking, "Wow, everything would have been better if only I'd been married."  There is no "better" than Heaven.  The same holds for anything else in life.  If I don't get the job I want, it won't matter in eternity.  if I never get new carpet for my house, it won't matter in eternity.  If I never write a novel, it won't matter in eternity.  My bucket list won't matter once I'm dead.

Of course there's nothing wrong with me getting married, changing jobs, buying new carpet, or writing a novel.  Those are all perfectly moral things.  Marriage is a sacrament even!  But I shouldn't waste all my energy here worrying about them if they don't happen.  What does matter, now and later, is following, serving, obeying, and loving God.  Am I doing those things when I get married?  Am I doing those things when I look at jobs?  Am I don't those things when buying a carpet?  (And yes, buying a carpet can involve God; we're just stewards of all of His goods.  Including the carpet.)  Am I doing those things when I write?  

I've often heard this referred to as an eternal perspective.  Now is a very tiny blip on the timeline of eternity.  Our lives here are so very short in comparison.  

The above examples are all positive things, but the same logic can go the other way.  Do I have time to be angry with others?  Will whatever offense they've committed matter for eternity?  There are times when the answer to this is yes of course, and we certainly should do something about moral causes. But I'm talking about the guy that cut me off on the way to work today, not a nation committing genocide.  Which one of those do we tend to get more angry at anyway?  It isn't the one with the actual murders, by and large.  No, we waste time being angry with a complete stranger who probably just wasn't paying attention and had no ill will.   This is seriously lacking in an eternal perspective.  What about jealousy?  Greed?  Which of the deadly sins do we each pick out to spend our time on here, instead of thinking about the big picture?

This all makes perfectly good sense writing this here, and maybe you think it makes sense reading it.  I find it is so hard to remember when I'm not actively thinking of it though, when I'm mad at the other driver or worried about my carpet or longing to get married.  it is in those moments the eternal perspective gets chucked out the window and I focus on the right now and on me, instead of eternity and on God.  Seems kinda selfish in those terms, right?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peace

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I think most sane people desire peace.  We'd all like to lead lives free of conflict, personally and in the world at large.  I know I spend a lot of time worrying about suffering and trying to figure out ways to avoid it for both me and my loved ones.  Suffering is inevitable though, and while we do (and should) strive for peace, we know it will not be entirely possible in this world.  Yet we long for this peace that nothing in this world can quite satisfy perfectly.

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There is a place where peace is possible and a reality, however.  In Heaven, we will be free from disturbances and have tranquility.  We will be free from war and violence.  I try to remember this when faced with suffering.
 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~Romans 8:18

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wrath

Every morning I try to take in the daily Mass readings via my Logos software.  It has been hit or miss, but I know the day starts off better when I do it.

After I'm done reading that, I also try to read that day's entry in the Pictorial Lives of the Saints.  This daily devotional by John Shea from 1887 has a few paragraphs on a different saint each day of the year.  This has also been both educational and enjoyable.  

A few Fridays ago, this was the reflection of the day for St. Gregory Nazianzen: “We must overcome our enemies,” said St. Gregory, “by gentleness; win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once wither the fig-tree, from which a more skilful gardener may yet entice fruit.”

That was really annoying and not at all what I wanted to hear that morning.  Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by my wrath?  Seriously?  I was annoyed with someone and really wanted to tell them off.  I'm sure you know the feeling.  And of course we're just certain telling them off will make us feel better, will fix whatever problem they are having, and in general make the world a better place.  It is rough to get reminded before seven in the morning that you're wrong.  It is even rougher realizing that you're wrong about something eternal.  Nobody I know actively wants to mess that kind of thing up!

I sat on it all weekend and eventually did post it to my Facebook, more as a reminder to myself than anyone else.  Within a week or so another friend posted this picture and the following verses.

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And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:32

See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. ~1 Thessalonians 5:15

Recompense to no man evil for evil. ~Romans 12:17

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. ~1 Peter 3:8

It is so easy to be mad with others.  We forget that we're not perfect either - we're all sinners.  We forget God loves that other person and wants for them to know Him and be with HIm forever, regardless of what we happen to think of them at the time.  We forget everyone has their own lives, issues, feelings, and problems that may cause them to act the way they do and then we forget to have compassion on them.  Sometimes it is good to be reminded of what we forget.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Oops. Let's do it again.

So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David; and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land had rest for ten years.  And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.  He took away the foreign altars and the high places, and broke down the pillars and hewed down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.  He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him.  ~2 Chr 1-5

In my last entry I wrote about how much I find in the Old Testament.  Reading about Asa is another example of an Old Testament story with applications to life right now.  King Asa was doing a great job when he starts off here, destroying the foreign altars and commanding the people to worship God.  He offers sacrifices to God and even dethrones his own mother (the king's mother was a big deal in the kingdom) for worshiping idols.    During his reign, he was attacked by the Ethiopians.  He called out to God and his army was delivered from the stronger force.  Everything seems to be going great for Asa before Chapter 16.

In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying,  “Let there be a league between me and you, as between my father and your father; behold, I am sending to you silver and gold; go, break your league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.”  And Ben-hadad hearkened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali.  And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and let his work cease.  Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.  For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.” Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.

The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.  In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.  And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign.  They buried him in the tomb which he had hewn out for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier which had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art; and they made a very great fire in his honor.

~2 Chr 16

So, Asa goofs.  People do that sometimes.  When confronted, Asa threw the seer in the stocks instead of repenting.  It appears from this story he started being cruel to the people at the same time.  When he fell ill later, Asa refused to return to God and instead continued to rely on others.  The situation clearly went from bad to worse for Asa based entirely on his own response.

How often do we make a situation go bad to worse?  Maybe we don't actively go out and build idols to worship, but once we're on a roll we just let go of what we know is right.  I do it all the time.  Perhaps I'm not getting along with a friend and we've exchanged some snappy words.  I could stop and change the subject, but instead I may bring it up again just to get in a witty remark.  Maybe I've realized I'm on the gossip train and ought to get off, but instead decide to stay on it because I've already screwed up and this information seems awfully interesting.  Or a friend will correct me for doing something I shouldn't be doing, and instead of being thankful for the reminder I get annoyed and prideful.  These aren't all that uncommon - all three have happened this week.

It is perfectly acceptable to bail from bad behavior once we've realized we're there, no matter how long it takes us to realize it.  We can't take back what we've already done, but we can take charge of the next moment and ask that God give us the strength to do what is necessary.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Counsel from the Old Testament

I've been reading 2 Chronicles lately.  I know a lot of people find the Old Testament boring, but I'm not one of them.  Once I understood the basic outline of the story and began to see the connections to the New Testament, the Old Testament became a joy to read.  It is also full of lessons for life.

Look at what happened to Solomon's son, for instance.  Rehoboam inherited a significant kingdom following the death of his father.  All the tribes of Israel were under his rule.  It didn't take long for the young king to falter though:

And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke upon us, and we will serve you.”  He said to them, “Come to me again in three days.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be kind to this people and please them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.” But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put upon us’?” And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to the people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you lighten it for us’; thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.  And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.’” ~ 2 Chr 10:3-11

When the old men who had helped his father didn't provide an answer that satisfied his ego, Rehoboam went to his younger friends.  Following their advice led to the permanent split between the ten northern tribes of Israel and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  Let's let that sink in for a moment.

This isn't to say the advice of our peers isn't valuable, but when we ignore the tested advice of those we know to be wise, we are asking for trouble.  It is so easy to fall in line with our peers and to do as they do or as they say.  We call this "peer pressure" to kids, but we are not immune as adults.  We can also find this in a much larger setting; namely whatever the current societal trend of the day is for the world compared to centuries of wisdom from the church and/or especially what we know from God.  How often do we see things as old fashioned or out of touch, just because they are old and no longer seem to meet our fancy?  As much as we hate to admit it, there is often wisdom in age.

This isn't the only time a king takes bad counsel.  In Chapter 24, Joash the king does fine so long as a faithful priest is there to help him.

Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beer-sheba.  And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest. ~ 2 Chr 24:1-2

He does quite well "all the days of Jehoiada," collecting the proper taxes and rebuilding the temple.  But what happens when the priest dies?

Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king hearkened to them. And they forsook the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt.  Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD; these testified against them, but they would not give heed. ~ 2 Chr 24:17-19

That's a pretty epic change to go from building up the temple and the proper worship of God to outright idolatry, all on account of some suck ups.  The prophets from God even warned them, but to no avail.  The desire for the riches and praises of this world proved too much.

Perhaps it is easy to dismiss these stories as a bunch of idiots that lived way before us, thus falling into the same trap of ignoring the old just because it is old.  These aren't stories from long ago that have no parallel in our lives.  This kind of thing happens all the time and is an ever-present danger to those who would seek the Lord now.  Egos still exist.  We still crave the praises of others.  

So what are we to do to avoid this same path?  I'd say start with prayer, though of course I find myself lacking in that area daily.  We are also blessed with an abundance of wisdom if we're Catholic as the Church already has all those silly "rules" and pieces of wisdom we like to dismiss so casually if we don't understand them.  They're pretty safe to follow even if we can't explain them fully (though do make sure it is a general guideline and not something wacky one theologian came up with).  And we should take the time to find out why Christians have done something a particular way or believed something for 2000 years instead of throwing it into the trash as soon as MTV tells us it is wrong.  There's no need to reinvent the wheel here.  Know your values, why you have them, and how to apply them in everyday decisions.  Identify the people in your life who give good advice and those who don't.  Rely on God.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interesting links

I recently found three, totally unrelated interesting links you might find useful.

First, Glenn Packiam's Blog had some information on Atonement Theories with a video of N.T. Wright.  I'd never had any idea there were different theories and then I found myself overwhelmed with trying to pick one.  I liked how this approached it.

Here's a response to Sarah Palin's suggested use of water boarding to baptize terrorists at the Deacon's Bench.  Did you know the Catholic Church teaches torture is intrinsically evil?  No matter how badly we want to torture the bad guys, it is wrong.  And also not cool to compare to a sacrament.  

How do we know the Gospels are historical?  This is at the Catholic Education Resource Center. I heard a similar question to this just the other day.  Do you have an answer?

Another question from that conversation, from a different person, was about the Catholic view of salvation.  Here's some interesting food for thought, as well as a link to an excellent summary written by a non-Catholic (at the time; he's since converted).

From today, an article about Pope Francis' homily: The Church is more than 'a university of religion,' Pope Insists.  “Let us ask: How is my witness? Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or are a simple numerary in this sect? Am I fruitful because I bear witness, or sterile because (I am) unable to let the Holy Spirit lead me forward in my Christian vocation?”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Let's talk conflict

If you tell me you truly believe that 2 + 2 = 5, I will tell you I truly believe you are wrong.  If you persist in believing this equation to be true, I'll probably continue to hang out with you and go to the movies with you and be your friend.  You'll just be wrong about math and I probably won't want you to be in charge of teaching it to any children.  I'll be sad about your incorrect math skills.  But life would go on and at no point would we hate each other over this disagreement.

That's a simplistic view of conflict over deeply held beliefs that does not end in fear and hatred.  I'm not sure why we can't apply it to other things.  For instance, I believe abortion is wrong.  The act itself is intrinsically evil, which means it can never be justified.  However, this does not mean I hate women.  It does not mean I hate women who have had an abortion.  Identifying something as a sin should not actually lead to hate and fear of the person.  As we're called to bring Jesus to people and Jesus came to save sinners (like us), we should continue to love these people.  This brings about the "hate the sin and love the sinner" catchphrase that is often thrown around but oftentimes not understood or put into practice.  

Of course, some might argue the analogy to math isn't valid as we know math to be true.  Some would argue we don't know that about God and morals.  I'm an engineer, I like math.  I trust math.  However, I believe in God more than I believe in math.  "Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but 'the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives'"  (Catechism of the Catholic Church 157, quoting St Aquinas).  The analogy is valid for a believer.

Now let's go back to the math.  Let's say you were trying to write laws that allowed the teaching of your 2 + 2 = 5 equation.  I would oppose your laws.  I don't think it will bring good order to society to teach such things.  I'll probably invest money in the campaigns against your campaign and put a sign out in my yard.  However, this still would not prevent me from hanging out with you, assuming we could remain civil.  It is always harder to remain civil with politics, but that would be a goal.

So when there are laws in favor of abortion, I must also oppose them.  Naturally if I believe in God and think He's opposed to such actions, I wouldn't want to support laws that allow them.  I'd want to invest in campaigns that are opposed to these laws and hopefully participate in educating people as to why abortion is wrong while providing other alternatives.  Again, this does not mean I hate women.  It does not mean I hate women who have had an abortion.  I don't sit around at night wondering how I can make life harder for another woman while laughing maniacally.  

When the Catholic Church or others identify behaviors as sinful and when they fight policies that promote sinful actions, they are not also hating on their opponents.  In fact, in many cases you'll find these churches have ministries to reach out and assist the very people they supposedly "hate."  No doubt there are some groups and people who truly hate other individual people, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they're doing it wrong.

Does this setup cause conflict?  Yes.  In the math example, the other "side" clearly believes they are right.  In the conversations we have with others and the battles we must wage politically, the opposing "side" believes just as heartily as we they are indeed correct.  Disagreement is inevitable.  But let's get over the idea we have to hate each other, personally, in the process.  "Remember who the real enemy is."  For Christians, that enemy is satan.  It is okay to hate him.  But everyone else is called to a life with God, even if they don't know that, and we should remember it and treat them accordingly.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buffet of Devotions

I am acting as a sponsor for a candidate in RCIA.  She'll be joining the church in just a few days, and it truly has been wonderful helping her through this process.  A few weeks ago she pulled me aside with a question.  Apparently, we had failed to explain all the devotions that we talk about (Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Adoration) are optional.  She was feeling a bit overwhelmed and wanted to know what to do!  We ended up coming up with an analogy that helps explain all these great things we have available as Catholics.  It is like we have a buffet of devotions!  You have to take a tray and a plate and silverware, which could represent Jesus and the Sacraments. But then you get to pick from the huge variety of devotions the people of the Church have developed over 2000 years.  They are all wonderful of course, but different people may enjoy different ones.  And that's okay!  We have the blessing of having many options with which to explore and deepen our faith.

When was the last time you checked out something Catholic other than Sunday Mass and Sacraments?  There's a short little article here that might give you some ideas and explains some of the more common ones.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Growth through Suffering

If you want to become stronger, you have to lift heavier things.  I know this from CrossFit.  The workouts aren't easy and people can't understand why I volunteer for such suffering, but I see tremendous improvement in all areas since I started.  I'm stronger, faster, and have more endurance.  

We often pray for patience or humility or something else along the lines of becoming better people.  We want God to reach down and turn us into a better version of ourselves.  He can, of course, do that, and does in many ways.  Prayer, the sacraments, and other devotions are used to form us.  But sometimes, we grow through suffering.  When I have to fight myself to be patient with someone, I'm becoming a more patient person.  It is a lot like lifting weights.  Every time I suffer through something difficult, I become a better person.  That doesn't sound awesome though.  At CrossFit when I suffer, I can see the results immediately.  I get a much hotter body and feel much better about myself.  Generic suffering otherwise just seems so… painful.  It is difficult to remember that suffering has a purpose and that God can (and does) use it for good in us.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~James 1:2-4

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ~Rom 5:3-5

This of course makes perfect sense as I write this blog, but nobody likes suffering and it is hard to keep it in mind when I'm suffering or when others are!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Zombies Don't Share the Gospel

I like to stay busy.  It keeps me out of trouble!  We aren't supposed to be idle and we're called to use our time wisely for God.  So far in 2014, I've been actively involved in RCIA, I tutor algebra once or twice a week, and I've been taking the excellent Certificate of Theology courses from JP Catholic.  I've been doing CrossFit three times a week, ran three times a week as part of a Couch to 3.1 group, and began a morning exercise program twice a week at the start of March.  I like to visit my Dad on weekends I'm free, hang out with my friends as much as possible, read novels, and write here or elsewhere.  Oh, and there's work too.  I'd not given much thought to this hectic schedule until this month.

The week I began the morning exercise program, I started noticing mild physical symptoms.  I'd just finished an added-sugar fast in February so I assumed they were from the re-introduction of sugar.  As the weeks went by though, they kept getting worse and worse.  Things got really bad when I stopped being able to go to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning if I'd worked out that day.  I love my sleep!  I grew more stressed and irritable.  One night (morning) I was still awake at 2:00 and finally decided to throw some research into what might be causing me all of these problems.  Every single result on Google indicated I was WAY too busy and was having a textbook response to too much stress.  I didn't feel stressed before the symptoms appeared, but apparently my body didn't care how I felt.

I was reminded of a few posts Jennifer Fulwiler has made at Conversion Diary regarding scheduling and being overwhelmed.  I'm not a mom with that many kids, but the signs and solutions seemed obvious in my life once I'd re-read her posts.  

I'm in between classes at JP Catholic, so I talked to them about withdrawing from the program for awhile.  They were very supportive.  I also dropped the morning exercise program I'd started at the beginning of the month and skipped a 5k I was signed up for over the weekend.  Just as she experienced a lot of results by making some changes, I've noticed huge improvements as well.  I'm sleeping better which is amazing.  I feel like I have time to do things in my house, like clean the dishes.  I'm in a better mood in general, and I feel like I'm more prepared to tackle the day.

We are supposed to keep away from idleness and serve God with our time, but we can't be so busy that we fail at being joyful communicators of the Good News.  We don't set a good example if we're cranky all the time or too tired to help with anything not on our schedule.   Nobody wants to hear about Jesus from a zombie.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wisdom

I was reading the Book of Wisdom last week.  I think it may be one of my favorite books in the whole Bible.  If you're not Catholic, you probably won't find this in your Bible unless it happens to include this at the end with the six others not considered canonical by most Protestants.  The KJV had these books included as well for a time, though they didn't consider them inspired.  The reasons why for that are best left to a different post, but I do think anyone can enjoy the Book of Wisdom.

This section speaks to the ideas of non-believers, and the idea there is nothing after this life.  I see the treatment of Jesus in verses 2:12-20, and the promises of God in 3:1-8.

Chapter 2

For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart: Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air, And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof. For our time is a very shadow that passeth away; and after our end there is no returning: for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again. 

Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present: and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us: Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered: Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness: let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place: for this is our portion, and our lot is this. 10 Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. 11 Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. 

12 Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. 13 He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. 14 He was made to reprove our thoughts. 15 He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. 16 We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. 18 For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. 19 Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. 20 Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. 

21 Such things they did imagine, and were deceived: for their own wickedness hath blinded them. 22 As for the mysteries of God, they knew them not: neither hoped they for the wages of righteousness, nor discerned a reward for blameless souls. 23 For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. 24 Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it. 

Chapter 3

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them, and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble. They shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. They that put their trust in him shall understand the truth: and such as be faithful in love shall abide with him: for grace and mercy is to his saints, and he hath care for his elect. 

 

 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent

Today is the third Sunday in Lent.  Readings are here.  I just love the Gospel reading from today.  In addition to being a great story of Jesus' interaction with a sinner, the woman's history mirrors that of her people.  Jesus isn't just telling her story; He's telling the story of the Samaritans.  There's just so much wonderful about this story!  There's the woman and her interaction, there's the connection to her people, there is the promise of salvation, and there's the fact this woman who was so shunned she had to go get water when nobody else was out there manages to bring Jesus to her whole town.  I. Just. Love. It.

I love it so much I found commentary on the readings from other, more articulate people just for you!

Go.  Click.  Read.  Everything about the Mass is better when we understand more.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Easy Life

Frequently when people learn of my hopeful career plans, they ask me why I'd want to go to a "harder job with less pay."  Wouldn't it just be easier to remain where I am?  The short answer is yes, of course, that would be easier.   It wouldn't be nearly as dangerous, the hours are much better, and in general I'd lead an easier life.

So here's a question - when did we start valuing easier?  When did that become the standard by which we live our lives and make our decisions?

Even Adam was made to work in the Garden before the Fall.  He wasn't given an easy life.  Noah had to build an ark and then live in it a very long time with his family and a bunch of smelly animals.  Abraham had to travel all over, fight to rescue his nephew, and oh yeah there's that whole almost-sacrifce of Isaac thing.  Moses got to work in the desert for 40 years, lead the people out of Egypt, and then deal with them another 40 years due to their disobedience.  These Biblical figures did not lead easy lives.

David had it hard too; before being in charge he had to deal with Saul trying to kill him.  His suffering during this and other times is how we got a lot of the Psalms.  One time it looked like he was taking it easy was when he didn't go out to war like he was supposed to, leading him into adultery and murder.  That didn't seem to work out too well for him!

There's no pretending Jesus led or advocated an easy life.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."  ~ Matthew 5:2-12
Well.  Not a lot of easy there, and this is before he starts really going to town on the leadership of the time.  An easy life is not what generally gets one crucified by the authorities!

Tradition holds all but one of the apostles were killed for their faith.  Even John did not have an easy life though.  His Lord's dying command to the very young man at the time was to take care of Mary.  I can't imagine she was difficult to care for, but that's still quite a sudden responsibility.  And although he wasn't killed for his faith, he was persecuted.  His life wasn't easy.

I can't think of any saints who had easy lives.  Nobody I've read about lived a life of perfectly content quiet contemplating before going to their heroic death before the Lord.  Oh sure, some were more academic than others, but they still worked hard.  And let's not pretend for a moment that dying for Jesus is somehow easy or pleasurable.  Getting ripped to shreds by lions probably still hurts quite a bit, even if you're confident you're going to be seeing Jesus immediately afterward.

People would joke in times past they had children so they could fetch the tv remote or another drink from the fridge, but really, who has kids for easy?  Nobody.  Nobody has kids to make their lives easier.  Every day, the parents around us live far more difficult lives because they have children.  There is no easy button for parenting.

There's a lot of talk in the New Testament about helping to carry others' burdens and carrying crosses and being strong in the faith, but I don't remember anything about pursuing an easy life.

Do you know anyone, anyone at all, who has led a successful and happy life following the easy path? I propose it isn't possible.  I would further suggest that for a Christian, an easy life is a sure sign we're doing something wrong.  Our difficulties may take on many shapes and sizes and versions, but as a group our lives should not be easy.  We should not want them to be easy and we should understand it is not possible for them to be easy anyway.  Let's not continue to buy the lie that easier is better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Advantages

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. ~1 Cor 7:32-34
Paul is discussing the advantages of being single.  There are advantages to being married of course, and some day I'd like to enjoy those, but it is important to remember the advantages of being single while in that state.  I (should) have far fewer attachments to the world that distract or prevent me from pursuing God's glory.  I have more time and money to help others.  I have more free time to study and pray.  I can be more open to sudden changes or circumstances that need assistance.

Let's compare this to the popular idea of the primary advantages of being a single young woman.  In that outlook, I (should) have far fewer attachments to whatever that distract or prevent me from pursuing my glory.  I have more money to buy stuff.  I have more free time to enjoy myself.  I can be more open to opportunities to develop my own career.

Buying stuff, enjoying myself, and developing my own career are of course good things and I certainly don't ignore them.  But they are not the primary advantages to being single.  They are not my primary function in any circumstance, including in my time as a single woman.  Serving God is always the primary goal, which makes those goals subordinate to what God wants in my life at any moment.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Faithful in All

I am such a horrible blogger, I know.  I post daily for a few weeks and then wander off.  A conversation I had with a man the other day about the following story prompts me to write tonight though.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am with child.” (2 Sam 11:2-5)
David first attempted to conceal his actions by inviting her husband home from the war so he could sleep with his wife.  The soldier doesn't cooperate, so David has him killed on the front lines of battle and takes Bathsheba for his wife.

The man I was speaking with noted that if David, a man after God's own heart, could fall, then he as a man could easily fall as well.  He noted how easy this is to do and how entirely hard it is to avoid.  He also noted the context:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. (2 Sam 11:1)
David wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing to begin with.  He didn't go from doing everything entirely right to sleeping with a married woman and then having her husband killed.  He first started failing at other duties.

In today's readings, we read David's son has some troubles too.  His kingdom was grand and wealthy after God granted him extraordinary wisdom.
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.  Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.  And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD commanded.  Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.  Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  However I will not tear away all the kingdom; but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (1 Ki 11:4-13)
Solomon went after foreign gods and worshiped them.  The man with the most wisdom on the planet failed to properly serve God and instead turned to idolatry.  Why?  Let's go back a few verses and see the context for this one.
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Ki 11:1-3)
Again, the prelude is a failure to serve God.  Solomon didn't wake up one day and fall into idolatry.  It takes quite a bit of time to wed 700 women and pick up an additional 300 concubines!

What's the take away?  Sometimes I think it can be easy to relegate some of our duties to God as "less important" or "no big deal."  Maybe I think, "Well, I'm not off killing people, so who cares if I skip a few other things?"  "Who cares if I watch this inappropriate movie; it isn't like I'm out there swearing and sleeping with multiple people."  "It isn't a big deal I gossip about so and so.  It isn't like I'm telling everybody."

It apparently is a big deal.  Small disobedience now leads to big disobedience later.  We need to be faithful in all things.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Playing God

I'm working on a novel.  It is safe to say I've been working on this novel for years.  I enjoy the world building and the planning that goes behind the story I want to tell almost as much as I enjoy the story itself.  This doesn't surprise me as I've always loved that about other books.  Look at Lord of the Rings and say hello to backstory.  There is obviously so much going on around the story and before the story!  Obviously that's an extreme example; most authors don't go so far as to develop an entirely new language as part of their world building.  I still sense it in other books though and I love it.  I love there's more to the story.  I love the consistency that brings.  I love the internal logic.  So I have been trying (and enjoying) doing the same with my story. 

The problem with this is it is incredibly hard!  Why does this character exist?  Why is this character in this group?  Why does this group exist?  What prompted the group to be in the situation they are in at whatever point in the story?  What complex connections are there between this group and another group which has all the same complex questions about their history?  I have a fictional world - what is its history?  And of course I have to make sure they all align so that everything is primed and ready and all connected just perfectly at the time of the story I'm actually telling.  It is confusing and exhausting, and these characters don't even have free will to mess everything up for me.

Have you ever played Sim City?  In this game, the player builds a city.  They must manage the taxes and expenses, control crime and pollution, provide education, and ensure there are enough jobs.  This is also really hard.  There are so many variables and so many things that can go wrong.  Disasters happen and buildings are destroyed and the power goes out.  People marry and have kids and move from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Revenue goes up and revenue goes down.  And again, the citizens here have no free will.

If I can't control the characters in my novel or the outcome of my video game, why do I think I can control real life?  And if God can control creating the whole universe and managing everything in it, why don't I trust Him with what I cannot do?  The only logical and safe position is to actually trust God!  Only God can see it all, do it all, and take care of it all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Surprised by Sin

I've noticed something about sin lately.  We seem surprised to discover it happens.  This is probably old news to those wiser than me, but I just picked up on it.  I told a friend a few weeks ago, "I know people are sinning.  I just don't assume they're the people I know."   What a dangerous outlook!  

I've noticed three types of this surprise:

  1. Surprised by sin in general.  This seems to be when we like to duck our head into the sand and pretend sin doesn't exist.  Oh sure, everybody needs Jesus because sin does exist.  We just live like it doesn't.  For instance, we like to think we live in a wonderful free society that is moral and true.  Then we ignore the millions of unborn we have killed.  We say porn is bad, and then ignore the adult entertainment store going up on the corner.
  2. Surprised by the type of sin.  This is when we're surprised by the type of sin.  Maybe we've accepted the fact that sin, in general, exists.  But surely nobody is actually looking at porn!  And it is ridiculous to think any of the people we know might be engaging in fornication.  Nobody would kill children; that's just crazy.  These sins are just worse than all the other ones and surely don't happen.  
  3. Surprised by the people.  This is the thought that the person you know would never sin.  Like the Catholic beliefs on Mary, this individual is free from sin.  Or perhaps we might acknowledge they do sin, but they're really minor sins. They'd never do that, whatever that is.  We can even do the same to corporations or people - know anyone who once thought our own government wouldn't spy on our phone calls?

Why is this so important?  This is not a case of "what you don't know can't hurt you."  Other people sins do hurt us.  It hurts our families.  Our families' sins hurt us and each other as well, and we have a responsibility to notice when things are going downhill and take action.  And this type of thinking can lead us to believe our own sin doesn't exist, hurting our families and our communities.  The consequences now are horrifying, but the eternal consequences are, well, eternal.  Ignoring it does not make it go away.

There's also the problem this line of thinking causes when we finally do wake up and notice sin is or has happened.  Are we too shocked to do anything about it?  Is our response to a (fellow) sinner in need affected by our blindness?  Think of a fire in a big building.  With warning, the fire might have been prevented.  With no warning, the fire spreads, and the people may be so overwhelmed and confused to do anything about the fire or even escape.  This is the very definition of being caught off guard.

Sin actually does exist. All the sin exists.  It isn't new, it isn't rare, and it isn't minor.  We may live in a culture that tells us sin doesn't exist, but we know better.  We cannot forget this point.

Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Quick Takes

--- 1 ---

Despite my best efforts, I did indeed get the stomach bug last week.  I spent Saturday night and Sunday dealing with that.  Sadly, that means I've not only failed in my resolution to attend daily mass once a week, I've actually skipped the first two Sundays of 2014.  Even though they were both for good reason, I'm still really looking forward to this Sunday.

The stomach flu is also why I visited no blogs this week and left no comments.  I'm a bad blogger!  :)

--- 2 ---

Speaking of Sunday, we will be celebrating the Second Sunday of Ordinary time.  If you're like me, you're wondering where the First Sunday of Ordinary time went.  Last Sunday was the Baptism of our Lord AND the First Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Why?  I don't know.  Perhaps it is to confuse those of us who notice such things.

--- 3 ---

Prior to last week's illness, I was able to participate in the Saturday morning walk/jog for my Couch to 3.1 group. I assume they don't say Couch to 5k for trademark reasons, but it is the same idea.  It was an enjoyable time, if cold.  We ran for 30 seconds and walked for 1:30 for about 25 minutes.  My understanding is tomorrow I'll be able to get with a group that runs more at a chunk.  

I don't have any cardio issues with running.  Apparently I have some arch problems which cause some pain in my inner shin area.  Sometimes I'd call them shin splints and sometimes they're lower.  The podiatrist said I'd over-stretched my posterior tibial tendon, and you aren't alone if it sounds like that's in my butt.  It's actually down near my ankle.  Anyway, I now have better shoes, better arch supports, and a few months of CrossFit making that all stronger so I only have mild discomfort now.  I don't actually like running though.  I'm only doing it so I'll be able to change careers and become a police officer.  Give me a rower, bike, or elliptical any day!

--- 4 ---

On the off chance you're bored, are with a friend, and have a tape measure, would you like to do me a favor?  Sit on the ground with your feet straight out in front of you.  Sit up straight.  Have your friend measure from the ground to the edge of your armpit.  Comment with the measurement in inches.  Why?  It's for a super secret project...

--- 5 ---

I started Scripture II this week at JP Catholic.  It seems to be covering the big picture of the whole Bible, going through each covenant to show God's master plan.  The book is Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History by John Bergsma.  I read it during the break and I like it.  It is similar to the seemingly more comprehensive A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn, one of my favorite books.  Both books do a great job explaining the whole story of salvation in context, which is important if one is trying to read the Bible.

--- 6 ---

What games do you have on your smart phone?  I don't play a lot of games on it because it hurts my neck, but I enjoy Words with Friends and Tower Madness.  Tower Madness is the best tower defense game available, in my opinion, if you're into that kind of thing.  What about apps on your phone?  I most often use Safari to connect to Facebook as I don't like the Facebook app, and I also use the WeatherBug app, Twitter, and Feedly.  I have LoseIt to track my nutrition information, Wodify to see that day's workout, Sunrise for my calendar, and Logos to read the Bible.

--- 7 ---

It should come as no surprise to anyone I'm in charge of the Biggest Loser competition at work.  Who else are you going to get to track your numbers?  We are running two tracks this time - one for people who want to compete for cash and one who just want their weight tracked for encouragement.  I'm only in it for the graphs!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wow

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  ~ Genesis 1:1

I'm reading Genesis as part of my Scripture II class at JP Catholic, and earlier I hopped right into Chapter 1.  I was all lined up with the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and my notes and the syllabus and the other textbook, Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History by John Bergsma.  I read the introduction and breezed through the first chapter and then study the notes for each verse.  I nodded along as I read different theories on authorship and date and what the Creation account means and how it relates to the entire rest of human history.  I thought about friends who believe in the literal seven day creation and friends who think it took longer.   It was all very analytical.  And it totally missed one very key point about the beginning of the universe - God created it from nothing.

Oh sure the text mentions that and I usually register that as an academic fact.  But let's think about that for just one moment.  Nothing existed prior to the universe.  This wasn't like taking existing sand and building a sand castle or chopping down some trees to build a log cabin.   Those activities certainly involve skill, but they do not involve the creation of matter from nothingness.  Even if you believe that the whole show was created by a Big Bang between two particles, my mother would ask you where those particles came from.  They came from nothing.  God created it all from absolutely nothing.  You can't even say He created it out of thin air, because air didn't even exist.  

The God we follow, the God who loves us, the God who sent His Son for us, the God who created the universe, is more powerful than we can even imagine.  When we say "all-powerful," we can't even envision what that power looks like.  We have no concept of what it would be like to create something from nothing.  I've heard people say Genesis is over-simplistic - is there some more complicated version that would make sense of this miraculous wonder?  Are there enough words available or pieces of paper ever produced that could explain or contain this truth?  We are so unintelligent we can't even begin to understand what is involved in even the very first line of Scripture.

That's just awesome.  There's really no other word to describe it.  One doesn't exist.  We can take all sorts of lessons and thoughts from this one idea, but really, let's just bask in the awesomeness of it.  God created it all from nothing.  That's how big He is.  That's how powerful He is.  Everything else must pale in comparison.

Bless the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD my God, thou art very great;
Thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment:
Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters:
Who maketh the clouds his chariot:
Who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
Who maketh his angels spirits;
His ministers a flaming fire:
Who laid the foundations of the earth,
That it should not be removed for ever.
Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:
The waters stood above the mountains.
At thy rebuke they fled;
At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys
Unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over;
That they turn not again to cover the earth
He sendeth the springs into the valleys,
Which run among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field:
The wild asses quench their thirst.
By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation,
Which sing among the branches.
He watereth the hills from his chambers:
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,
And herb for the service of man:
That he may bring forth food out of the earth;
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,
And oil to make his face to shine,
And bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
The trees of the LORD are full of sap;
The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests:
As for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats;
And the rocks for the conies.
He appointed the moon for seasons:
The sun knoweth his going down.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night:
Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth
The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their meat from God.
The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together,
And lay them down in their dens.
Man goeth forth unto his work
And to his labour until the evening.
O LORD, how manifold are thy works!
In wisdom hast thou made them all:
The earth is full of thy riches.
So is this great and wide sea,
Wherein are things creeping innumerable,
Both small and great beasts.
There go the ships:
There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
These wait all upon thee;
That thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
That thou givest them they gather:
Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled:
Thou takest away their breath, they die,
And return to their dust.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created:
And thou renewest the face of the earth.
The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever:
The LORD shall rejoice in his works.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth:
He toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live:
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
My meditation of him shall be sweet:
I will be glad in the LORD.
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth,
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless thou the LORD, O my soul.
Praise ye the LORD.

(Psalm 104)

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Pope Francis!

Here's another quote from Pope Francis before he was Pope Francis (Open Mind, Faithful Heart):

Holiness is not just a collection of virtues. Indeed, such a conception of holiness causes great harm; it stifles our hearts, and after a while it fashions us into Pharisees. Holiness means “walking in the presence of God and being perfect”; holiness means living in constant encounter with Jesus Christ.  

We can't just go through a check list and call ourselves holy.  Lists of virtues and rules and ideas can be useful, but only with the right heart and with faith.  God wants us to seek Him and seek His will.

Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes

--- 1 ---

Okay people - big news.  I got my first unassisted pull up at CrossFit!  No bands or jumping or anything.  My goal is a strict pull up (no swinging the legs or using momentum) but I'd also never done a kipping pull up.  

Last Saturday during the warm up, I heard my coach talking to someone else about kipping.  I just decided to try it since I'd been working on strict and hadn't tried kipping in months, if ever.  So I did one.  It was so weird because I got done and looked at the bar in shock - did that really just work?  I wandered over to my coach and said, "I think I just did a kipping pull up."  She said, "And I missed it?!  Do it again!"  

If you go to 1:50 on the below video, you can see what one of these looks like.

I did several more on Saturday.  On Wednesday we had a workout which included 45 pull ups in total.  I used the smallest band available (apparently good for about 15lbs) and knocked them out pretty quickly compared to my old method.  I actually feel athletic!  And sore!

--- 2 ---

I posted my 2014 goals last weekend as well.  My church-going goals this week have been thwarted by snow and cold weather.  On Sunday there was 8 inches of snow and the wind chill was -25!  I suppose that's not too terrible compared to what other people had, but that's very cold and a lot of snow for around here.  The city doesn't even own enough plows or have enough people do do anything but the main roads and some of the school routes.  

--- 3 ---

In news to no one, it is cold here.  It is cold everywhere.  I don't know if I've ever been as cold as I was outside this week.

--- 4 ---

My roomie got the stomach flu this week and it has been my quest to avoid joining her in the puke-fest.  I've learned a great deal about the stomach bug (it isn't really the flu), but mostly really crazy statistics from Wikipedia.  

Noroviruses are transmitted directly from person to person and indirectly via contaminated water and food. They are extremely contagious, and fewer than twenty virus particles can cause an infection[4](some research suggests as few as five).[8] Transmission occurs through ingesting contaminated food and water and by person-to-person spread. Transmission can be aerosolized when those stricken with the illness vomit, and can be aerosolized by a toilet flush when vomit or diarrhea is present; infection can follow eating food or breathing air near an episode of vomiting, even if cleaned up.[17] The viruses continue to be shed after symptoms have subsided and shedding can still be detected many weeks after infection.[18]

Vomiting, in particular, transmits infection effectively. In one incident, a person who vomited spread infection right across a restaurant, suggesting that many unexplained cases of food poisoning may have their source in vomit. 126 people were dining at six tables in December 1998; one woman vomited. Staff quickly cleaned up, and people continued eating. Three days later others started falling ill; 52 people reported a range of symptoms, from fever and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. The cause was not immediately identified. Researchers plotted the seating arrangement: more than 90% of the people at the same table as the sick woman later reported becoming ill. There was a direct correlation between the risk of infection of people at other tables and how close they were to the sick woman. More than 70% of the diners at an adjacent table fell ill; at a table on the other side of the restaurant, the rate was still 25%. The outbreak was attributed to a Norwalk-like virus (norovirus). Other cases of transmission by vomit were later identified.

In one outbreak at an international scout jamboree in the Netherlands, each person with gastroenteritis infected an average of 14 people before increased hygiene measures were put in place. Even after these new measures were enacted, an ill person still infected an average of 2.1 other people.[19]

 

--- 5 ---

In other words, I'm really, really, really lucky I'm not in the bathroom hurling while I type this.  Though of course I would not be typing this!  What have I done so far to keep it at bay?

  • Turkey broth.  I make this from the carcass when I make a turkey and cook it a long time to get the good stuff out of the bones.  It is supposed to be good for digestive health.
  • Probiotics.  I have several different types, and I've taken enough for them to mildly upset my stomach on my own.  Better the good bugs than the bad!
  • Essential oils. To take internally, you've got to get a really high quality brand.  Many essential oils can also be applied to the skin.
  • Reduced food intake.  I have excluded all sugar and haven't eaten as much as I normally do.
  • Hand washing. Duh.

--- 6 ---

This week I signed up for a Couch to 3.1 (5k) group.  This will include 9 weeks of training and entrance into a race in March.  I start tomorrow - wish me luck!

--- 7 ---

And I've run out of random takes.  All the work associated with not getting the pukies has made me a lot less random!

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Open Mind, Faithful Heart

I've been reading a free Kindle download from last week, Open Mind, Faithful Heart. It is a collection of meditations from Pope Francis before he was Pope Francis, and is very interesting!

I found this quote to be really relevant recently.

Without abandoning a realistic viewpoint, Christian communities should become centers of optimism where all the members resolutely endeavor to perceive the positive aspect of people and events.

He's talking to religious communities, but I find it applicable to the random laity like myself. I've recently been blessed with a new gift to better be able to see the positive in certain bad situations. Oh sure I always knew God could make the best out of a bad situation, but I've rarely considered what role we had to play in that.

One goal in 2014 is to try to follow this guidance, to try to find the positive in people and events, no matter how hard that may seem.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

CS Lewis

I've been going through My Clippings on my Kindle.  It appears I read CS Lewis' The Problem of Pain in 2011, and found quite a few good quotes.

"Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger."

"For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John."

"If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable. A Christian cannot, therefore, believe any of those who promise that if only some reform in our economic, political, or hygienic system were made, a heaven on earth would follow."

"You will remember that in the parable, the saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity."

I remember enjoying the book, though it was more difficult to read than Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters.  I should really re-read it, and also read his other books.  What a great writer!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 Goals

Becomingabetterme

 

I was working on my 2014 goals post anyway when I saw this link-up from My Drop in the Ocean.  That worked out well!  If you're coming from there, welcome.  If you're coming from somewhere else, welcome, and check out that link-up!

Now for the goals!

1.  Spiritual Goals.  My first and primary goal is to grow closer to God.  Let's face it - any problems with that relationship are definitely on my end.  I think this year I need to spend more time replacing "ME" on my flowchart with "GOD."

NewImage

NewImage

Looks pretty easy from this angle, doesn't it?  All it took was some text editing!  Seriously though, I do have some specific goals in mind to this end.  Many of these things I'm doing already, but I wanted to include all of them so I wouldn't get lazy.

  • Read the Bible daily.  I've used the Logos software to develop a reading plan.  I'll get through the remainder of the Old Testament (I've already done about half in the last six months) and all of the New Testament by the end of May.
  • Pray daily.  I usually pray at night, but I need to spend more time in devoted prayer.
  • Attend daily mass at least once during the week.
  • Visit adoration at least once a month and confession at least every three months.
  • Read the daily readings.  I'm already doing this one and it is easy with Logos Verbum.  I check out the readings for the day and a saint every morning over breakfast.
  • Remember that this goal set is my primary goal set and not something I do when I have time.

2.  Family / Social Goals.  Perhaps it seems odd to put these together, but as a single woman living three hours from my nearest immediate family member, my close friends become my family.  I'm very blessed to have a few families who include me as part of their own nearby in addition to being blessed with a wonderful natural family.

  • Call and visit those immediate family members more often.  I call my dad around three times a week and usually get up to see him every month or so, but I can do a better job reaching out to my siblings.
  • Track down my nieces and nephews on social media.  They're not as into talking to Aunt Julie on the phone, so cyber-stalking them seems the answer!  (Kidding.  Mostly.)
  • Spend time with my current friends.  My closest friends are busy people (mostly moms) and I'm an introvert, so sometimes it can be easy to go weeks or months only talking if there's something specific to talk about or if there's a problem.  I need to make time to spend it with them.  They will always let me help out around the house while we talk!
  • As an introvert, it can be easy to hang out at home.  This isn't the ideal way to make new friends though!  At least once a month, I need to go out with someone or a group that isn't in my normal circle.

3.  Health and Nutrition Goals.  I have spent a few years studying the fact that when I eat fewer processed foods and exercise more, I feel better.  I think it is time to be consistent in putting that knowledge into practice.

  • I'm redefining my relationship with processed sugar (soda, ice cream, donuts).  I'm still quite in love, but it is becoming apparent it isn't a healthy relationship.  We can only see each other once a week now.
  • Spend more time on flexibility.  This includes stretching daily and especially after CrossFit and doing yoga once a week.
  • Run at least twice a week, weather permitting.
  • I'm still pursuing my goal of passing the PD agility test, so I need to keep doing CrossFit.  Fortunately, I love it!

4.  Other Personal Goals

  • Get A's in my classes. I'm taking courses toward a Certificate in Catholic Theology at John Paul the Great Catholic University.   I completed the first course, Introduction to Scripture I, a few weeks ago and am starting Introduction to Scripture II this week.
  • Read one fiction book each month.  This is a pathetic goal considering how fast I read and how much I like to read, but I often forget to do any reading due to my other tasks.  I am a book nerd though so it is important.
  • Write daily!  This can be my novel, this blog, or my journal.  Writing is good for the soul!
    • I'm not concerned about finishing my novel, but I can't continue this on-again-off-again relationship.  Just thinking about it makes me less stressed and happier so I just need to accept the fact it is part of my life and make some time for it.
    • I need to blog at least twice a week.
    • Writing in my journal is a great way to get my prayer on and think about what is going on in my life.  I always feel better after, and yet I always forget to do it.
5.  The Big One.  This goal has no inherent moral value.  It surely isn't the most important on the list.  But it is by far the hardest. For the past ten years, I've woken up at 7:00 most days of the week.  Unless I've stayed up extraordinarily late, I'm still awake by 7:30 on most weekends.  7:00 is my default wake-up time.  In 2014, I want to make it 6:00.  I've tried this before and failed completely, but there are so many advantages I want to make it happen.
  • Getting up at 6:00 will make it a LOT more likely I'll make it to 7:30 daily mass at some point during the week.  Normally, I have to decide to set my alarm early and then remember not to hit the snooze button.  It is really hard to avoid the snooze button!  This will make my default time 6:00 and make it much easier to be up and ready to go by 7:30.
  • I'm supposed to be attending early morning operations at work a lot more frequently than I am currently.  Waking up at 6:00 will allow me to catch the tail end of those operations a day or two each week, and make it easier on those days I need to get up even earlier to catch the whole thing.
  • If I'm not going to church or work, I can use that extra time to read, write, and get some stretching in.  I can be productive in the morning instead of rushing to get things done.  I always find I feel better in the morning if I've had some time to prepare and do some things prior to work.
What are your goals for 2014? 
 

 

Friday, January 3, 2014

7 Quick Takes - CrossFit Edition

 

Last week, I received multiple alerts from Google Analytics.  Apparently the traffic to this blog was much higher than it normally is and they wanted to let me know.  What brought so many people to this blog I've set up to share my amateurish thoughts on spirituality?  A Christmas Story.  Videos from A Christmas Story brought the record setting numbers.

I'm all about reaching my audience!  So today I bring you something else totally unrelated to my blog's main theme: CrossFIt.  

--- 1 ---

I started CrossFit in August with an Intro to CrossFit class and absolutely loved it.  My box offers a special class I've been doing since then, which is less bar work and more cardio.  Our workouts are usually more reps with less weights, but it is mostly all the same stuff as the Intro to CrossFit class.  This means a lot of push ups, pull ups, squats, wall balls, kettle bells, jump rope, sit ups, box jumps, running, and rowing among other things.  I still love it and have a hard time skipping it, even for holidays and family events.  The people are all amazing and friendly and the coaches care about my progress.

Favorite

--- 2 ---

Every injury or ache or pain I've sustained in my short life thus far has been eliminated or greatly reduced since August.  This includes random wrist pain that interfered with pushups, shoulder pain from a Karate injury, knee pain, and ankle pain.  The only thing on that list that even bothers me at all now is some ankle, but that's significantly improved.  In July, all it took to trigger some aggravation was running a bit or jumping rope for any length of time.  It bothered me again a bit last weekend, but here's what I did to cause it:

  • Warm up with 100-200 jump rope, 20-30 lunges, 20-30 air squats
  • Workout of
    • 100 single jump rope
    • 100 m run
    • 40 overhead walking lunges with a 10 lb plate
    • 200 m run
    • 30 sumo dead lift high pulls with a 25 lb kettle bell
    • 300 m run
    • 20 wall balls with a 10 lb med ball
    • 400 m run
    • 20 wall balls
    • 300 m run
    • 30 SDHP
    • 200 m run
    • 40 overhead walking lunges
    • 100 m run
    • 100 single jump rope
  • 6-7 mile hilly hike the next day
So I've gone from aggravating my ankle just by using it to needing to do all of the above to bother it at all.  And honestly, after all of that, it wasn't the only thing that was sore!  
 
I keep hearing CrossFit causes injuries, but so far the only thing it has done for me is fix injuries!  I feel more alert and awake as well.

--- 3 ---

When I was 17, I desperately wanted to attend the United States Air Force Academy.  One of the physical standards for women was that they must be able to do a pull up.  I know, it doesn't sound like a lot.  But women have a hard time with pull ups.   The Marines have recently delayed increasing their standards for women to include pull ups, finding "many potential Marines were unable to meet the new standards."  I didn't know any of that at the time though, so I set out to do a pull up.  My dad installed a bar in the basement, and every day after school I would practice.  I passed the test when it came time, doing not just one but TWO pull ups.

That was 16 years and about 30 pounds ago, and I am yet again trying to do a pull up.  The coaches have given me homework.  There are bands (like big rubber bands) one can attach to the bar and then use to reduce the weight.  I can also start at the top and then lower myself down (which is how I managed to get them in high school).  I'm hopeful perhaps this is the month I will do a pull up again!

--- 4 ---

Boxjumps

On the other hand, I feel I have done a much better job conquering the box jump.  A week or so ago I did FORTY!  When I first started, I would stare at the box and wonder how much it would hurt when my feet inevitably did not clear the edge and my shins came crashing into it.  I hear it is awful.  I have yet to experience it though and managed to do two sets of twenty without falling, tripping, or otherwise making a mess of things.

--- 5 ---

Although I am improving, my worst area is anything overhead.  Overhead walking lunges, overhead squats, overhead whatever.  Not a fan!

--- 6 ---

I've found all this working out has affected my diet.  Aside from Christmas (when I ate everything set before me, just to be polite of course), I am pretty careful about what I eat now.  There's no grand plan on most days, but I do think about food relative to how it will help or hurt my workout.  And by "hurt," I mean give me cramps or make my stomach upset.  Additional sugar is entirely out on CrossFit days because ain't nobody got time for those ill effects.  I make sure I get plenty of protein too.  In short, it is an excellent motivator to eat pretty clean without having a complex plan to follow.

--- 7 ---

By this point many of you will have determined this whole thing sounds too extreme or too hard.  CrossFit may not be for you, but don't decide that because it looks too "hard."  Hard is trying to get fit using any method that doesn't motivate you.  I thought it sounded "hard" before I started.  After almost 10 years at a desk, I didn't think my body was capable of doing any of this.  The great thing about great coaches is they make it work for each individual.  You don't need to be able to do 100 push ups to even begin.  You don't need to be able to do a single push up, actually.  You don't need to be fit to start getting fit.  

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!