Frederick Buechner on the Church as Family

Frederick Buechner turns 92 on Wednesday (long may he drive the darkness back), but this is a word best heard gearing up for a Sunday.

“Life is extraordinary, and the extraordinariness of it is what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. The extraordinariness of it is that in the Kingdom of God we all belong to each other the way families do. We are all of us brothers and sisters in it. We are all of us mothers and fathers and children of each other in it because that is that we are being called together as the Church to be. That is what being the Church means. We are called by God to love each other the way Jesus says that God has loved us.

Loving each other doesn’t mean loving each other in some sentimental, unrealistic, greeting-card kind of way but the way families love each other even though they may fight tooth and nail and get fed to the teeth with each other and drive each other crazy yet all the time know deep down in their hearts that they belong to each other and need each other and can’t imagine what life would be without each other — even the ones they often wish had never been born.”

— Frederick Buechner

from “The Church” in The Clown in the Belfry (pp. 149-159). San Francisco: Harper, 154.


Advent Again – Day 2

“When did we see you…?”


Old, Broke and Alone” by Adrienne La Faye


A long time ago, I took a walk down a street in Harlem in New York City. I came upon a man who asked me for a dollar. He had asked a few other people before me, but they only passed him by without glancing his way. I stopped and handed the man some money. As I began to turn away, he reached out and shook my hand. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I will bless you.” Now, I’m not saying that was God Himself. But how do we know that it wasn’t someone working for him, walking around in disguise, just to see what we would do?

MUHAMMAD ALI, The Soul of a Butterfly

A Fasting Florilegium

“Consumerism, instead of satisfying needs, constantly creates new ones, often generating excessive activism. Everything seems necessary and urgent and one risks not even finding the time to be alone with oneself for a while. St Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever. “Enter again into yourself.” Yes, we must enter again into ourselves if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake but indeed our personal, family and social equilibrium itself. One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand.” – Pope John Paul II

 “…go back through history and inquire into the ancient origins of fasting. It is not a recent invention; it is an heirloom handed down by our fathers. Everything distinguished by antiquity is venerable. Have respect for the antiquity of fasting. It is as old as humanity itself; it was prescribed in Paradise…. Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes.” – Basil “Homily on Fasting”

“Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments… not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not ‘if you fast you will get,’ but ‘when this happens, God’s people fast.” – Scot McKnight, Fasting p. ix, xvii

“Each time we feel hunger or resist the temptation to eat and drink we are reminded of why we are not eating or drinking, namely because we want to become people whose entire heart, mind, soul, and strength are devoted to loving God. We can also give our surplus to others who are in need and learn to use the things of this world properly. Should we be attracted to fasting for less worthwhile reasons, such as losing weight for cosmetic reasons, these very thoughts help us recognize the mixed nature of our motives.” – Diogenes Allen, Spiritual Theology p. 83

“We must be careful not to make a formal fasting, or one that in truth “satisfies” us because it makes us feel as though we have all in order. Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if a benefit to others comes from it, if it helps us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober life, which does not waste, which does not “discard”. Fasting helps us to train the heart to essentiality and sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially towards the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence.” – Pope Francis

“It is not the uncleanness of meat that I fear, but the uncleanness of an incontinent appetite. I know that permission was granted Noah to eat every kind of flesh that was good for food; that Elijah was fed with flesh; that John, blessed with a wonderful abstinence, was not polluted by the living creatures (that is, the locusts) on which he fed. But I also know that Esau was deceived by his hungering after lentils and that David blamed himself for desiring water, and that our King was tempted not by flesh but by bread. And, thus, the people in the wilderness truly deserved their reproof, not because they desired meat, but because in their desire for food they murmured against the Lord. Set down, then, in the midst of these temptations, I strive daily against my appetite for food and drink. For it is not the kind of appetite I am able to deal with by cutting it off once for all, and thereafter not touching it, as I was able to do with fornication. The bridle of the throat, therefore, must be held in the mean between slackness and tightness.” Augustine, Confessions, XXXI

“…fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: ‘Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.’” – Pope Benedict XVI

“Fasting loves not many words, deems wealth superfluous, scorns pride, commends humility, helps man to perceive what is frail and paltry.” – Augustine, Sermon LXXII

This last quote is not like the others, but I’m fascinated by the physical correlation to our spiritual practices. How does letting go of what is superfluous renew our grasp on what is essential? Fasting actually prompts our bodies to seek energy from other sources than bread alone, trains them to seek the good and release the bad, and triggers healing processes on a cellular level. “Free radicals can be generated by poorly functioning mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell). The switch between eating normally and fasting causes cells to temporarily experience lower-than-usual levels of glucose (blood sugar), and they are forced to begin using other sources of less readily available energy, like fatty acids. This can cause the cells to turn on survival processes to remove the unhealthy mitochondria and replace them with healthy ones over time, thus reducing the production of free radicals in the long-term.” – Douglas Bennion, Martin Wegman, and Michael Guo

Advent Week 2: Waiting for Peace

ADVT02 “Peace” by Stushie

Another tough week. A week of violence and revelations of violence and of just how deep the violence of the so-called good people of the world runs.

Thankfully the same scripture that instructs us to seek and receive peace, which seems so far removed from our world right now, also discourages us from faking it, from pretending the wounds aren’t so bad and spouting nonsense about peace when there is no peace. We of all people should trust neither in political promises of security nor in our innate collective goodness to one another to eventually win out. The kind of peace we can drum up ourselves doesn’t require waiting.  It tends toward immediate gratification (taking whatever pacifies our desires)  or mollification (caving in to other’s illegitimate demands) or diversion – gorging our senses to overwhelm our sensitivity to one another’s needs, eating to the point where we can no longer imagine starvation, turning up our own personal soundtracks so we don’t hear the suffering of others, looking at anything as long as it is away.

The sense of shalom peace that courses throughout the words of Genesis and Jeremiah and Jesus entails relational wholeness. None of us can achieve that kind of peace alone. It has nothing to do with getting away from it all and everything to do with assuming rightful places within a righted all. It is a peace we receive from drawing near to a God who would suffer the violence of birth and death to be with us. It is a peace we seek for our cities and neighbors as we strive to do right by one another.

from “Here on Earth”

The old man living
In his rented room
Grows lonely as the night comes on
Especially in winter

And the boy shooting drugs
On the tenement roof
Is lonely whether or not
He has companions

Lovers lie sleeping
Side by side
A wilderness between them

And their unborn infant
Is already alone
So soon to be discarded
Even as he begins
Unfolding in the womb
Of his lonely mother

Because the scatterer
Has overtaken us
Betraying promises
Estranging lovers

Tearing us inwardly
And tearing us apart
One from another

And this is why
Those of us who are sated
Find it so easy to ignore
Those of us who are starving

And why we have been known
To torture one another
Why there are times
When we are far more cruel
Than the animals.

Taken all together
Or taken one by one
We are the holiest
Of all earth’s creatures

For he who kindled
The fire of the sun
He who draws out the tender leaves
From the dark twigs of winter

He who has whittled
A cabin for the snail
Has also carved our names
In the palm of his hand

And he became a child
The better to be near us
Born in the wintertime
Born on a journey….

– by Anne Porter, from Living Things: Collected Poems (New Hampshire: Steerforth Press, 2006), p. 124.

Andrew Greeley on the Catholic Imagination

Andrew Greeley,  self-proclaimed "loud-mouthed Irish priest"

Andrew Greeley,
self-proclaimed “loud-mouthed Irish priest”

On the Relationship between Religion and Imagination

 The imagination is religious. Religion is imaginative. The origins and the power of both are in the playful, creative, dancing self.

(The Catholic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen)

On the Uniqueness of the Catholic Imagination

 A word about the Catholic imagination: Unlike the other religions of Yahweh, Catholicism has always stood for the accessibility of God in the world. God is more like the world than unlike it.

(The Catholic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen)

The objects, events, and persons of ordinary existence hint at the nature of God and indeed make God in some fashion present to us. God is sufficiently like creation that creation not only tells us something about God but, by so doing, also makes God present among us.

(The Catholic Imagination p. 6)

Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. As Catholics, we find our houses and our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace….

This special Catholic imagination can appropriately be called sacramental. It sees created reality as a ‘sacrament,’ that is, a revelation of the presence of God.

(The Catholic Imagination p. 1)

On Stories and Doctrine

 Religion begins in the imagination and in stories, but it cannot remain there. The stories which are our first contact with religion… are subject to rational and critical examination as we grow older to discover both what they mean and whether we are still able to believe them. Bethlehem becomes the Incarnation. The empty tomb becomes the Resurrection. The final supper becomes the Eucharist. These are all necessary and praise-worthy developments. Nonetheless, the origins and raw power of religion are at the imaginative (that is, experiential and narrative) level both for the individual and for the tradition. The doctrine of the Incarnation has less appeal to the whole self than does the picture of the Madonna and Child in a cave. The doctrine of the Resurrection has less appeal to the total human personality than do the excited women and the awestruck disciples on the road to Emmaus that first day of the week. The doctrine of the Real Presence is less powerful than the image of the final meal in the upper room. None of the doctrines is less true than the stories. Indeed, they have the merit of being more precise, more carefully thought out, more ready for defense and explanation. But they are not where religion or religious faith starts, nor in truth where it ends.

(The Catholic Imagination p. 4)

On Lyrics, Liturgy, and Witness

 So if the troubadour’s symbols are only implicitly Catholic (and perhaps not altogether consciously so) and if many folks will not understand them or perceive their origins, what good are they to the Catholic Church? Surely they will not increase Sunday collections or win converts or improve the church’s public image. Or win consent to the pastoral letter on economics.

But those are only issues if you assume that people exist to serve the church. If, on the other hand, you assume that the church exists to serve people by bringing a message of hope and renewal, of light and water and rebirth, to a world steeped in tragedy and sin, you rejoice that such a troubadour sings stories that maybe even he does not know are Catholic….

Those Catholics who speak to the meaning of life out of the (perhaps) unselfconscious images of their Catholic heritage have a more profound claim to be liturgists than diocesan liturgical directors, for example, who gather to devise ways to use the liturgy to brainwash the laity into accepting the social action views of those who draft pastorals. (I do not know whether the assumption that this can be done is more hilarious than the attempt to do so is obscene.) The Catholic minstrels, such as these may be, are the true sacrament-makers because they revive and renew the fundamental religious metaphors. We must treasure them rather than ignore or denounce them. Or impugn their motives.

(The Catholic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen)

– Andrew Greeley, February 5, 1928 – May 29, 2013

Brennan Manning on Grace and the Importance of Telling the Whole Story

Brennan Manning on Grace and the Importance of Telling the Whole Story

Brennan Manning on Grace and the Importance of Telling the Whole Story

“…Grace calls out, ‘You are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted.’ Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.”  [The Ragamuffin Gospel]

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” [intro track to War of Ages album Fire from the Tomb]

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift.  If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” [Abba’s Child]

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’
The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift.” [The Ragamuffin Gospel]

“All is Grace” [memoir title]

– Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013)

Volf on Relating to Culture


“There is no single correct way to relate to a given culture as a whole, or even to its dominant thrust. There are only numerous ways of accepting, transforming, rejecting, or replacing various aspects of a given culture from within. This is what it means for Christian difference to be internal to a given culture.”

– Miroslav Volf in It is Like Yeast


Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

“Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.”

“[F]aith requir…


“[F]aith requires imagination; not in order to deceive ourselves into believing what is not true but precisely in order to grasp what is true but is too amazing in its uniqueness to be easily believed.”

– from the diaries of Denise Levertov