Monday Opening

Priscacara_liops_Green_River_FormationHere’s a good summary of evolution in this BBC feature. To the east of me, lots of fossil finds, like this fish, left, from Wyoming.

In reading up on natural wonders in my new state, I learned that native legends told of a lake at the Mt Rainier summit. There is geological evidence for such a thing.

Mount_Rainier_over_TacomaThis is mostly how the mountain looks from my location across the Puget sound from Seattle, only Tacoma is well under the horizon and most of the mountain heights are not.

My wife picked up this fine book on the centennial of the nation park. Fabulous photography and a poetic and informative text.

I’m interested in learning more about the geology of this part of the state. I know I’m living on land that was a few hundred miles off the Eocene coast of North America. In other words, well into the Pacific Ocean of 40 million years ago. And yet I’m surrounded by mountains. Isn’t that a wonder?

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Dives in Misericordiae 13h: Love More Powerful Than Human Weakness

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4Yesterday we discussed the need for continual conversion. It is then that others notice the quality of mercy in the people of the Church. It is how God treats us in weakness, rather than in our strength and splendor, that mercy is more evident.

The contemporary Church is profoundly conscious that only on the basis of the mercy of God will she be able to carry out the tasks that derive from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and, in the first place, the ecumenical task which aims at uniting all those who confess Christ. As she makes many efforts in this direction, the Church confesses with humility that only that love which is more powerful than the weakness of human divisions can definitively bring about that unity which Christ implored from the Father and which the Spirit never ceases to beseech for us “with sighs too deep for words.”(Rom. 8:26)

St John Paul cites ecumenism as first among the post-conciliar tasks. An interesting insertion, don’t you think? I don’t disagree with its importance, but it hadn’t occurred to me in the context of mercy.

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Laudato Si 50: Birthrates

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”.[Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 483]

We’ve had this problem at least since the 60’s. Politics has always been the enemy of providing for the poor. More people, as such, do not damage the environment. But people shunted to the margins, and thrown to the dogs–this is part of the harm perpetrated on the environment. Pope Francis is right: this is one problem, not competing paradigms.

This is an accurate diagnosis, that complaints about overpopulation serve the interests of the privileged, because of course wealthy persons do not live on the very edge of survival.

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.

Ponder the truth: it’s not about consumption, but about waste and poor distribution:

Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.[Catechesis (5 June 2013): Insegnamenti 1/1 (2013), 280] Still, attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.

However, Pope Francis does recognize that population density in certain places is part of the problem. When people have no choice but to crowd into shantytowns because the wealthy have coopted lands traditionally farmed or hunted, it is indeed a travesty of both human and environmental aspects.

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Dives in Misericordiae 13fg: A State of Conversion

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4Picking up on yesterday’s idea that the era of pilgrimage is an era of mercy, not judgment, it makes sense that the Church’s message is one of mercy:

Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:4) as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”(2 Cor. 1:3) is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of His covenant with (people); even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the rediscovery of this Father, who is rich in mercy.

Conversion, therefore, is not burdensome, but the opposite. Conversion to God relieves burdens, inner sufferings, and personal torments. Conversion is not just an event in a believer’s life, but also a new state, a new way of being:

Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind. Those who come to know God in this way, who “see” Him in this way, can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him. They live, therefore, in statu conversionis; and it is this state of conversion which marks out the most profound element of the pilgrimage of every man and woman on earth in statu viatoris. It is obvious that the Church professes the mercy of God, revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, not only by the word of her teaching but above all through the deepest pulsation of the life of the whole People of God. By means of this testimony of life, the Church fulfills the mission proper to the People of God, the mission which is a sharing in and, in a sense, a continuation of the messianic mission of Christ Himself.

But is it obvious? If believers do not attend to the need for continuing conversion, if they do not experience mercy, if they point to others who they think are not living up to good standards, I’m not sure it is obvious the Church proclaims the mercy of Christ.

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Laudato Si 49: Cries of the Earth, of the Poor

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

49. It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage.

Perhaps we can say that like environmental concerns, issues involving the poor don’t get attention from the 1%.

Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

The Holy Father seems to be leveraging two issues here. Do you suppose it will get him much traction with people who more strongly identify with just one of these issues?

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Mt Rainier

USA_Sc_0750Wednesday afternoon as I pulled out of the fuel station and onto I-90 out of Moses Lake, Washington, I thought I caught a glimpse of something cream-colored on the horizon. Not just one cloud in a cloudless sky–no indeed! It was a volcano about a hundred miles away. “Stratovolcano” is how geologists categorize it. That just sounds dangerous.

I caught another glimpse as we approached the Cascade Mountains. I would have stopped to gawk, had we not been on a hopeful timetable to get to our new home.

mt rainier

Friends had us over for dinner Thursday night, and from their deck overlooking the Puget Sound we saw the mountain in the background. Boats and a giant ferry chugging along in the water. A bald eagle swooping low, nearby. The nearly full moon was rising just to the left of the peak. The moon was the only thing that told me I wasn’t really on a different planet–the way it always seems when I travel to the West.

Image credit for the panorama from the south here. And that little stamp was part of my small collection long, long ago. One scene from that 1934 series of National Parks I finally got to see.

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Open Thread on Proof-Texting

Max seems skeptical of the term proof-texting. Merriam-Webster online gives a basic definition:

a Scriptural passage adduced as proof for a theological doctrine, belief, or principle.

I assumed an anti-religionist would be distrustful of a Christian site’s definition, but I think this quickie from M-W could be expanded to any source, religious or not, that carries a certain weight of authority.

Let’s say people wanted to “prove” Jesus was a crybaby. They might cite John 11:35 and they would be correct in noticing that in one instance, Jesus cried. A detractor of the position might cite in turn John 18:20-23: instead of Jesus weeping, he responds to physical violence with a question. No tears–at least none are recorded.

This would be an example of a proof-text debate: taking isolated passages to support a premise already adopted by the proponent. Proof-texting runs amok when absurd or unusual doctrines, beliefs, or principles are adduced from isolated passages.

In the example above, honest scholars might conclude Jesus was a normal man who felt real emotions. They might look at the whole of the four gospels, and probe into multiple passages that support that premise not only by the descriptions of action, but in reading between the lines–doing more in-depth language study, preferably in Greek.

One problem in citing John 11:35 is that the context is the death of a close friend and the emotional upheaval of two others. Critics of the “crybaby” approach might mention the unusual circumstances of the event. They might not even move beyond the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel to dismiss the premise as spurious and those promoting it as intellectually lacking rigor.

In Max’s case, I notice he piles up a number of unrelated passages. He makes a common error that the teller of a story must automatically agree with every aspect of a story. And on occasion, he just misquotes entirely.

Sometimes in prayer, I feel drawn to a word or phrase. This isn’t quite proof-texting. First, I’m not trying to prove anything to myself. I’m just making connections between the written word as I pray it and experiences and thoughts in my life. And second, I don’t try to convince anybody that my word or phrase is better than theirs.

Last question for our friend: Max, you don’t seem too interested in these new open threads; why is that?

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