Pastry Chefs & Prostitutes [& Theology]

Today, I am simply posting a dear friend’s commencement speech from last week at our Seminary’s graduation. Hi name is Austin Ashcraft, and he gave me permission to post his brother’s phone recording (text here).

In just a few minutes, Austin captured a dynamic vision of theological education that offers a real response to the aggression of atheistic secularism with an equally impassioned theistic secularism, i.e. that prepares students to hand over a God who “so loved the world” in (an uncaged) Christ.

Let me tell you, the quality of seminarians and laity who graduated this year makes me realize the New Evangelization is in full throttle in the Deep South.

We Didn’t Start the Fire

[Please excuse this 2nd interruption today. I will still be back ~May 7, but after watching Pope Francis’ May Prayer Intention just now (that made me cry with joy), I just had to re-post this post from February]

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“The laity have a secular genius which is properly and peculiarly theirs..”                                                        — The Second Vatican Council

Last month, I presented a talk on the lay vocation at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. My audience was made up of people who work in and for the Church, in ecclesial ministry. Like myself.

I thought I would share here my opening lines from the talk.

The best part of what I am going to share this afternoon with you [church ministers] is that I have great news: You don’t need to do a single thing to kick-start this extraordinary and world-shaking mission of the lay faithful that Vatican II said is ‘where it’s at’ for the ~1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

This mission is already happening, already in motion everywhere, all around you. In fact, that mission is what built this Convention Center we are in, made the clothes you are wearing and the food you ate for lunch, the technology I am using, the vehicles that got you here, the fuel that powered those vehicles, the roads those vehicles drove on … and on and on and on. I could go on and on!

The mission of the laity is civilization building, culture making. What theologian Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh loved to call “doing the world as God would have us do it.” This worldly mission is what Catholics call not ministry, which is focused churchy-inward, but apostolate, which is focused worldly outward. Apostolate means apostle-ing, “being sent.” And for the laity this means being sent out by Jesus into the world to do the world God’s way. The apostolate of the laity is to reveal the sacred in the secular by so-loving the world with God the Redeemer.

Praise God, we church ministers don’t need to start up, create a strategic plan for, incite or organize this mission. Look! It’s already pulsing all around us, now, always and everywhere – burning, raging, pressing forward at every moment of every day. Turning the earth into a cultured Garden, into a City for God and man to dwell in together.This is the perennial human endeavor written into our spiritual DNA.

We ecclesial ministers serve well when we leave these secular laity feeling that theirs is the greatest of missions, and that our ministry exists to serve their mission. We serve well when we allow our best church-energies to spotlight and empower their mission to “do the world” as God intended.

[How did God intend the world to be done? See Christ.]

We ministers exist to enable lay men and women to become secular saints; become co-workers with God, called to join in His mind-blowing work of creating and redeeming this good and broken world one day, one deed, one prayer at a time.

You see, we didn’t start the fire. God set creation afire the moment He fashioned humanity in His image and likeness, entrusting His fire to us.

God set us in the world to become fire-casters, and how He longs to see it burn.

Okay, let me share a song that brilliantly illustrates the irrepressible dynamism of this world-mission. Watch how humanity rages, roars, presses on, for good or for ill, with or without us…

Let’s make it “with us”!

The Church exists as an outpost of God’s Kingdom planted in the world to infuse into culture and civilization the love of God given to us in Jesus. The Church’s very best energies, and the core focus of all her ministries, must be to harness the energies of this secular mission and allow the world to be consecrated to God.

To be “consecrated,” just as in the Mass, simply means bringing every aspect of day to day secular life into harmony with the inner structure of Jesus’ self-offering, “This is my Body given up for you, my Blood shed for you.” A consecrated world, symbolized by bread and wine, has been placed in service to love and offers no resistance to its final consecration on the Altar of the Kingdom.

So laity, let’s roll…

Lagging

My end of the academic year blitz continues, and as I am behind on almost everything I will likely not post until Monday, May 7.

Let me leave you with a smile.

Ode to Twenty One Pilots

[re-post]

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. — Vatican II

My Twenty One Pilots obsession continues.

Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young. But what a remarkable depth. A poet’s mind, disarming authenticity. He truly shares the anxieties of this age, which styles him a powerful voice.

The interviewer asked him a fascinating question: what is the mission of Twenty One Pilots? From whence their lyrics, their musical style?

Tyler struggled to answer. He spoke of the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans. He admitted these tempt to distract him. But what really drives him, he said, is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. “If our music can lift up just one person, making their life better and more joyful, then that is the mission of Twenty One Pilots. I don’t just want to entertain people, I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”

Their song Car Radio captures this brilliantly,

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

Precisely the definition St. Anselm gave to my life’s work, theology, which is fides quaerens intellectum, which I like to translate as “the quest of thinking faith.”

Unquestionably, there is a Christian worldview that inhabits their sounds and lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to use overtly religious language. Being an inhabitant of our creed-averse culture,  he creatively engages the challenge of trying to carry with him a “theology” into a diverse, splintered and radically pluralistic ethos. Faith “latently” informs their art, making TØP songs like fissures that compromise the integrity of the hardened walls constructed by an atheist, materialist, consumerist secularism. Letting some transcendent air in the room so we can breathe deep.

Or you might say they sing their music (deftly) into a culture comfortable only with an agnostic form of worship offered on “the altar to an unknown God” (Acts 17:23). There on that altar, faith can quietly lead us to contend more seriously with life’s great questions, to grapple with the rawest anxieties of our day, with an eye to hope.

When I went to the TØP concert with my daughters last year, I found my own faith stirred in a powerful way. It was truly an off-beat experience of worship for me, that left a mark for months afterward. All I could think of at the end of their concert, after they finished the song Trees, was the name for God coined by the 13th century Beguine, Marguerite Porete

FarNear

There in the commercialized Smoothie-King Center in NOLA, the God made “far” by our disenchanted culture drew stunningly near. “I want to know you, I want to see you, I want to say, Hello.”

After listening to the interview with Tyler, I wrote a poem. It’s my summary of what I see to be their aesthetic mission. Dang, I wish they could read it.

Prophets of Zeitgeist

Canting angst, oracles of Zeitgeist
haunted by a restless Father’s Love
whirling about the cross of Christ
faith to life stitched, deftly spliced.

Rapping deep into a living Tree
facing the face of fear, whilst longing
to be found, kissed by Truth set free
love filial, of our gnarled humanity.

Though never preaching, evoking
a beauty that saves, invites, feeds
thinking into our within, provoking
hope, suicidal minds all-soaking.

Your words, incise, cut, make bleed
yet gently wound to heal and bind
our inscape to a life-giving creed
bruising none of each fragile reed.

Your igneous mission rings clear:

Dare us hope Up, out of the fear
into the peace of God, Unknown
Heart Whisperer, “I AM, here
weeping dry every falling tear.”

Aaron Feis, Requiescat in pace

“They are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.” — Pope Francis

[Dioceses] especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members the younger men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness in [everyday secular conditions and the married state] and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, they might propose them to be beatified and canonized

The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history. — St. John Paul II

NOLA, If You Axe Me

My annual post, almost Mardi Gras.

“In New Orleans I have noticed that people are happiest when they are going to funerals, making money, taking care of the dead, or putting on masks at Mardi Gras so nobody knows who they are. New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana and ending up in the French Quarter.” ― Walker Percy

Hectic, havoc and the Jesus prayer

“Sinai Event.” #godhavoc emergingtruths.com

Savoring the encounter with Jesus is the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. — Pope Francis

This will be a hectic week of deadlines, on through the weekend upcoming, so I have no idea what time I will have to write here. I have given up on saying I won’t post for a specific amount of time, but just know it’s gonna be hit or miss.

Pope Francis’ words above, from last week’s homily on the Presentation, really ring true to me. Prayer that gives God permission to be God in us (which is the whole point of the first 3 petitions of the Our Father) unleashes havoc on evil, on fear, on anger and addiction; havoc on my tightly controlled securities; havoc on my plans for God. I mean, the Virgin Mary prayed like that just once — “let it be done to me according to your word” — and it set in motion all KINDS of personal, familial, national, imperial, preternatural and cosmic havoc.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. — Isaiah 9:2-7

God, play havoc on all that mitigates against your peace reigning in our lives.

An AME pastor I knew in Florida, whom I have quoted here before, totally got this. He used to open his Wednesday night worship services with a marvelous prayer:

O Lord, invade our staid and steady space
With your raucous and unsteady grace

The Jesus Prayer I have found to be especially poignant in this regard. Saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” repeated rosary-like in the heart on and off throughout the day, unseals the only Name which effects what it signifies, i.e.God saves. Ask the Egyptians what THAT looks like.

I post below a rhythmic chanting of it by the Russian monks of Valaam.

I have used this Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen quote probably a dozen times here, but it is just so well stated and seems a most fitting parting. God bless you, dear readers.

There can be so much escapism in our striving for a “spiritual life.” We often flee from the concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with God’s presence to an artificial existence that corresponds with our own ideas of piety and holiness, but where God is not present. As long as we want to decide for ourselves where we will find God, we need not fear that we shall meet him! We will meet only ourselves, a touched-up version of ourselves. Genuine spirituality begins when we are prepared to die. Could there be a quicker way to die than to let God form our lives from moment to moment and continually to consent to his action?