Moment of Truth

I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before.

By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in their explanations of symbolism.

Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture.

It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:

“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied

And be a simple kind of man
oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”

Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs.

But some things still rise above the noise:

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17

I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better…

Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction. In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us.

We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.

As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it?

While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.

An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by.

I happily informed him that it was no problem at all.

Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.

The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity.

I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.

In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament.

After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27

-Ben 9/29/14


Have You Noticed Jupiter?

Nature PhotographyThe planet Jupiter has been quite visible in the dark early morning sky lately (and perhaps other times of the night as well) if you know where to look. First of all, you can tell the difference between a star and a planet because planets have a steady, unblinking light, while stars twinkle. It has to do with the planets being much closer as compared to the pin-point light of the stars coming from such a distance that it’s affected by the earth’s atmosphere before we see it.

This is one of my favorite times of year to be looking at the stars, because the constellation Orion is visible (do you guys in the southern hemisphere get it the rest of the year?). Once you recognize it, it practically leaps out at you from the other stars. Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology, and the constellation really does look like a hunter with a belt that has a sword/scabbard hanging down, and his arms upraised holding a club and/or shield or a bow. It kind of depends on your imagination.640px-Uranometria_orion

I bring up Orion because you can use Orion to easily pinpoint Jupiter. I figured out a way to describe where it is right now, and its location hasn’t changed in weeks so this should be relevant for quite some time. Most planets move around (relatively) quickly, but Jupiter is very far away, so it’s been sitting in the same place in the sky. Now… as far as finding it and identifying it… Many of you probably have some kind of app on your phone, but I’m a bit old fashioned… I use a computer program. Stellarium is “a free open source planetarium for your computer”, and I’ve been using it for years to be able to identify planets and stuff that I notice. It’s worth downloading and playing with, especially if you have kids.

Okay, finding Jupiter. It’s really easy in a way, because it’s the brightest unblinking light in the night sky right now from what I’ve seen (obviously except for the moon, haha). But for those of you who can find Orion easily enough, find the top two bright stars in the constellation. Imagine a line being drawn from the star on the right (Bellatrix), to the star on the left (Betelgeuse), and continuing on in a straight line until you see the big unblinking light of Jupiter.

For those of you who haven’t run out the door to look for Jupiter, and you’re still reading…

It’s difficult for many of us these days to keep an eye on the sky like people used to do throughout history. Understanding the night sky can be very useful for knowing the seasons and even navigating. Even though the practical application is seemingly outdated, it’s still really cool to be mindful of it so we can better appreciate God’s creation. You don’t need a telescope either. Betelgeuse, the aforementioned star found in Orion, is actually a “red supergiant”. You can see its red color if you look closely enough, and it’s wayyyy bigger than our sun. Look it up and read about it. It’s cool to think that the light we see from a star like Betelgeuse has traveled for hundreds of years through space to reach our eyes.

Polaris_alpha_ursae_minorisIt doesn’t take much to learn where true north is by a glance at a clear night sky (my apologies to people in the southern hemisphere if this doesn’t apply to you guys). If you can learn to find the “Big Dipper” constellation, the two stars of the end of its scoop point to Polaris, the North Star, which is the only star in the sky that doesn’t seem to move around. Polaris is at the end of the curving handle of the “Little Dipper” constellation. These constellations basically look like scoops with handles. The Big Dipper seems to rotate around the North Star throughout the night (as the earth, and therefore our perspective, rotates), but the two stars of its scoop always point to Polaris. If this is confusing I encourage you to look it up and check it out.

If you’re like me, there’s little chance of a career as an astronomer, but it can be a worthy goal to try being as aware of the universe around us as people were in ages before city lights.

-Ben 9/28/14


The Middle Ages Weren’t That Bad

The_south_transept_rose_at_Notre-Dame_de_Chartres

One of the greatest arguments in favor of Catholicism is its inherent beauty. One of the greatest obstacles preventing people from seeing (or hearing) that beauty is misconception. If people slow down long enough to listen, they might find that there is a holiness that cannot be mistaken for evil. There is a depth that can only come from God, and a genuine richness formed by centuries.

Listen.

You can learn more about the Messe de Nostre Dame by clicking here.

———————————————————

“Our understanding of the medieval period has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Although one occasionally still hears a self-important scientist speak of the Dark Ages, modern views have long since overthrown such simplicities. An age that was once thought to be static, brutal and benighted is now understood as dynamic and swiftly changing: an age where knowledge was sought and valued; where great universities were born, and learning fostered; where technology was enthusiastically advanced; where social relations were in flux; where trade was international; where the general level of violence was often less deadly than it is today. As for the old reputation of medieval times as a dark time of parochialism, religious prejudice and mass slaughter, the record of the twentieth century must lead any thoughtful observer to conclude that we are in no way superior.

“In fact, the conception of a brutal medieval period was an invention of the Renaissance, whose proponents were at pains to emphasize a new spirit, even at the expense of the facts. If a benighted medieval world has proven a durable misconception, it may be because it confirms a cherished contemporary belief- that our species always moves forward to ever better and more enlightened ways of life. This belief is utter fantasy, but it dies hard. It is especially difficult for modern people to conceive that our modern, scientific age might not be an improvement over the prescientific period.”

-Michael Crichton

——————————————————–

-Ben 9/22/14


The Beards: a fun video

 

As we approach colder weather, guys everywhere should consider growing a beard (or in my case a bigger beard)… maybe even one worthy of the title “Alaskan whaler”. This video should help get you psyched.

-Ben


Check Your Posture

Pride-and-Prejudice-1995-jane-austen-13601705-924-576I remember often as a kid my parents would tell me that I should sit up straight. I didn’t really see what the fuss was about and largely ignored the advice, continuing to sit with my nose in a book, or reclined in whatever position felt comfortable. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself with friends when I was in my late teens that I noticed how horrible my posture was. My neck and shoulders naturally bent forward. By the time I had finally become self-conscious of my posture I had to work to undo years of slouching. It has not been easy, and I have not fully succeeded by the age of 30, but I have largely overcome the effects of bad posture through a constant attention to maintaining good posture.

Do you notice how actors in movies always just seem to have good posture? Athletes, dancers, equestrians, politicians and other people in the public eye can give the impression that good posture is a natural thing that we all have. I would argue that most if not all of those people have made a conscious effort toward good posture, to the point where it looks effortless, much like a well-trained public speaker appears like he’s having a natural conversation with his audience. Because the people we see and admire make good posture look natural, we can assume that we naturally have it also, especially when we only see ourselves from the front when we look in the mirror. I have learned that bad posture sneaks up on you, and for people like me who didn’t start out right, it takes an active fight everyday to not look like a slouch.

These days I notice that bad posture is becoming an epidemic among teenagers. Young ladies can develop a hunchback appearance, perhaps from looking down at their cell phones texting all day. Young men who play guitar or video games can have the problem and not even realize it, and then it can be a serious blow to their confidence when they finally notice. Is anyone going out of their way to motivate and properly instruct young people on how to sit and stand up straight? Perhaps we can learn something from the English culture of Jane Austen when young people were given elaborate instruction on how to carry themselves in public.

We should be aware of ourselves and understand our tendencies. Tall people can feel self-conscious about their height and perhaps subconsciously slouch downward, while shorter people might naturally have better posture while making the most of their height. People who work at a computer and/or a desk need to be extra careful, but those who work on their physical fitness have an advantage. If we’re relaxed much of the time then balance muscles that support our skeletal frame are not being exercised as they should. This is as much a challenge to myself as anyone.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for proper posture is to imagine that there is a string tied to the top of your head, pulling firmly upward. This helps you to extend the spine, put your shoulders and head back, chest out, and your chin up and back slightly, without exaggerating any of those movements. Daily stretches and strengthening your core are good ideas as well. A brief search online reveals possible routines that can help.

A focus on good posture can help with self-confidence, balance, and breathing, and can serve as a reminder to bring your head up and take a look at the world around you. It takes effort, but it’s well worth it. My point is, these things might need to be explained by parents and anyone who has an impact in the lives of young people. A bit of tough love can be something they’ll be grateful for later.

-Ben 9/13/14


North American Martyrs

 

 


Brideshead Revisited Book Review

bridesheadI would like to share my thoughts on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. I only recently discovered it and was privileged to listen to Jeremy Irons’ audiobook narration. Admittedly, it was my curiosity regarding Mr. Waugh’s Catholicism that led me to read it, but soon I was able to see why it is widely regarded as a classic. I found myself drawing comparisons at times between Evelyn Waugh’s style and that of Jane Austen or even Mark Twain. He has a way of helping you to picture stuffy old English culture while you’re chuckling at it, as well as helping you see the most cheerful side of life through his character development and dialog, which can easily be the boring part of novels. Also, I would dare say his ability to describe so much in so few words could give Jack London a run for his money.

First published in 1945, Brideshead Revisited is regarded as Evelyn Waugh’s magnum opus. He was able to draw from his experiences in the military and in college to paint such a bemused picture of those environments that he had me laughing out loud. Although the story begins during World War II, we are soon accompanying the main character Charles Ryder in his memories of his younger days growing up in 1920’s England. He describes meeting his good friend Sebastian and his encounters with Sebastian’s family, with the story centered around the family estate: Brideshead. The character development and dialog make for great discussion with other readers, and the subtle thematic depth makes me want to read it again. As the story progressed, I found myself being amused less often but appreciating Waugh’s descriptive abilities all the more. He had apparently intended a graceful transition from a humorous story into a more poignant one as the years of the story progressed into the 1930’s toward the war. By the time the end of the book comes along, the reader is emotionally and curiously prepared for the meaningful ending.

I should probably say a few words regarding the relationship between Charles and Sebastian toward the beginning of the book. In our modern American cultural context it is easy to draw conclusions, and at the very least the author does not seem to fear the possibility of our imaginations roaming a bit. However, before allowing speculation to ruin a great novel (or watching any Hollywood versions of it), it’s important to remember the Catholic stance on homosexuality that Waugh undoubtedly agreed with. Of course we are talking about characters who are not exactly on their best behavior, but if nothing is specified there’s hardly any sense in forcing the issue. I’ve decided to take a neutral stance on this debated aspect of the book, and allow Waugh’s bemused approach to writing become my approach to reading his work.

I am tempted to venture into the theological undertones (or overt messages, depending on who you are), but I will leave that alone for now and let the readers explore for themselves what Waugh might have been up to. Suffice it to say, as it is no secret, the overall theological message of the book is one of God’s grace and His pursuit of us all.

The story has a feel somewhat resembling Gone with the Wind or Legends of the Fall in its memory of an idyllic time and place followed by a slow but steady march into decay. Personally, I much prefer to learn the lessons of bad decisions through fiction rather than real life, so I don’t mind too much, as long as the story has quality and impact.

Although there are no characters that directly resemble myself or people I know, there are enough similarities on various levels to make the book particularly interesting to me at this season of my life. I think this is worth mentioning, just in case it might influence whether someone wants to read the book more or less because of it.

Catholic characters in the story are quite flawed (as Catholics tend to be), and Waugh’s treatment of many Catholic beliefs seems to amount to a literary shrugging of his shoulders… which makes me laugh. I can relate. But the aloof skepticism of agnostics can all-too-often give way to belief in the end.

I appreciate the author’s ability to share his theology through literature. Something that really struck me was Waugh’s ability to describe cares and temptations that people face every day in a way that would impress any secular literary critic, but then turn around and give an equally moving examination of the moral perspective. There was an interesting balance in this book between a seemingly casual writing style and substantive subjects. I was delighted one moment, and contemplative the next. To me, the book served as an illustration that Catholics are not ignorant of worldly concerns and desires, but aware of higher considerations. There is depth to this novel that will continue to maintain its relevance, and I look forward to re-reading it and recommending it to others in the years to come.

-Ben 9/2/14


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 185 other followers