Wednesday, July 1, 2020

No White People!

I'm seeing a lot of people making the claim "There are no white people in the Bible." The best response I've seen is "how about Lot's wife?" but seriously, this claim is ludicrous.

My first thought is "who cares?" If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and race doesn't matter, why are we racially profiling Biblical people?

The impetus behind this claim seems to be to somehow discredit art which depicts Christ or other Biblical figures as white, or perhaps the idea in white people's minds that Biblical figures are "like them." Again, who cares? Isn't the whole point of the Bible that Biblical figures are like you and I? For that matter, every culture has depicted Biblical figures as members of their own culture. This is not an attempt to deny the historical lineage of the person, but to make the person more relatable to the viewer. New flash - the purpose of literature and art is not always to depict everything literally.

Additionally, when Jesus and Mary have appeared in visions to people, they appear as members of the culture that person belongs to. Take Our Lady of Guadalupe, for instance. Mary appeared as a young pregnant Aztec girl, who spoke to St. Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language.

I won't go through the numerous depictions of Jesus and Mary in art, but here's an article with a small sampling of them.

But the real point of this post is to debunk the claim that there are no white people in the Bible. Skin color is mentioned only a few times in the Bible. The only places I can think of are Jeremiah 13:23 "Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?" - presumably referring to the dark color of the skin of Ethiopians - and Song of Solomon 1:5 "I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem." So it would seem we have ample evidence of dark skinned people in the Bible.

However, Song of Solomon 5:10 says "My beloved is all radiant and ruddy distinguished among ten thousand." Ruddy meaning red. Hard to be red when you're black. Furthermore, later in the same chapter,  verses 14-15 say "His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold." Alabaster and Ivory are light colored. My reading of this is that the lovers described in the book are a light skinned or white male and a black female.

Both Esau and David are described as ruddy as well and at least in Esau's case it is describing his hairiness. Did they have red hair? Reddish skin? Were they "white?" Who cares. but it seems at least possible, if not likely.

I guess some of it depends on who you consider to be white. An Aryan, white supremacist Nazi type person would say that only the Aryan race is truly white and all others are inferior. However, we are not Aryans, white supremacists, or Nazis. To contemporary Americans, white generally means of European descent, including Mediterranean cultures and Hispanics. At least that's the way race is considered in government forms and statistics. So let's look at whiteness from that perspective, especially since we're looking at this from a contemporary perspective.

There are Greeks in the Bible. Greece is a European country these days, but even in antiquity, Greeks were descended from various people, including white skinned people, and certainly at least some of them were what we would call "white." But regardless of skin color, Greeks are considered white today.

There are Romans in the Bible. Rome was and is in Italy. Italians are considered white.

There are many references to Tarshish in the Old Testament. The exact location of Tarshish is lost to history, but some scholars think it was in Spain or even Britain. Spanish people are considered white, as are British people.

Lastly there are the Galatians. The Galatians were Celtic people originally of France and the Balkans. Celts and eastern Europeans are considered white.

So yes, Virginia, there were white people in the Bible, even excluding Lot's wife. So stop virtue signalling with incorrect statements about the Bible.

N.B. if you want to discount Italians, Greeks, etc. as being non-white because of the way people were classified in antebellum times, note also that Catholics and Jews were not considered white, regardless of skin color, and so all religious art would get a pass, since they are depicting non-whites (Jews and Catholics), regardless of the color of the skin in the art.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Wages of Sin is COVID?

In one of the Great Adventure Bible studies I was in, the host, Jeff Cavins, made a comment which had a profound effect on me. He said the punishment for sin was that it felt good. Think about that for a minute. What? Feels good? How is that a punishment? How does that square with "the wages of sin are death"? Oddly enough, they fit perfectly.

What is the greatest good? Union with God. What is the effect of sin? Disunion with God - destroying the life of grace within us. If a sin feels good, it makes it all the harder to regain that union with God. In Genesis, Adam was to tend and guard the garden, and Eve was to be the mother of all. The effect of Adam's sin was "cursed is the ground because of you;  in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you" - it became harder to fulfill what God had asked of him. Likewise Eve "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."

In his book Confessions, St. Augustine talks about how he and a group of other young men stole some pears. They didn't do it for money, or because they were hungry, they did it just for the thrill of having done it. This is the wages of sin. The attachment to the sin itself, which makes it harder for us to do good.

Anyone who's struggled with pornography can attest to what a serious attraction sin can be. Even "smaller" sins, like "white" lies, make it hard for the person to tell the truth, even when it doesn't really matter. Gossip becomes habitual, to the point where we can't resist sharing a bit of information even knowing it will harm someone. God gives us what we ask for. In the Bible Solomon prays for wisdom and gets it. What you sow, so shall you reap.

What does all this have to do with COVID-19? For decades we have been a selfish people. We have shut out our neighbors. Things like social media, which have the capability to unite us, instead divide us and make us more and more isolated. We have developed a utilitarian society as well, where the elderly and the disabled are seen as a burden instead of a blessing.

Along comes COVID-19. Isolation is enforced, we got what we wanted. We are now dependent on the technology that has divided us for years, and instead of talking face to face, we connect in online platforms, where common courtesy is uncommon. The elderly and ill are especially vulnerable to the disease. Tired of visiting mom in the nursing home? Now you have the perfect excuse. In fact, if you're lucky your governor will send COVID patients to the nursing home and mom will not be a burden any more. You don't even have to go through the bother of a big funeral, since you can't have one.

Hate going to church on Sunday? Now you don't have to; in fact you can't. You can watch a video stream in your underwear any time of day or night. Or better yet, you can get free entertainment instead. At least porn sites are up. Don't like paying extra to go to your local store? It's closed. Perfect time to find an online overseas place that sells at a discount.

And you'll be happy to know that the highest priority is making abortions available. Sure you can't get a biopsy of that lump or have that cancerous tumor removed, but at least you can get what you want - no babies. For the days are surely coming when they will say, "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed."

You can sin all you want, and you don't have to confess it; the churches are closed.

We asked for it, we begged for it. Not begged God, of course, for we ignored Him, but we asked "the powers that be" for it and God heard us nonetheless. We sowed the wind, now we reap the whirlwind.

Proverbs 11:27-29
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
    but evil comes to the one who searches for it. 

Those who trust in their riches will wither,
    but the righteous will flourish like green leaves. 

Those who trouble their households will inherit wind,
    and the fool will be servant to the wise.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Non-essential Heroes

My meditation for today:

During this lockdown I have heard praises from every quarter for our "essential" workers, who risk their lives on the front lines everyday to keep us safe. Police, EMS, nurses, truck drivers, etc., and rightly so. Amen! God bless them for their sacrifice!

However, in all this we seem to have forgotten about the "non-essential" workers? How about some praise for those who are giving up their livelihoods, their dignity as workers, and sometimes their life dreams in order to keep us safe? They are sacrificing themselves and their families too, to keep us safe. Let's not ignore their sacrifices. May God bless them and keep them safe, and hopefully restore to them what they have lost and more.

Note also that I put "essential" and "non-essential" in quotes. I object to this nomenclature, because there is no worker, no person in this world who is "non-essential." We are all sons and daughters of God, and as such we all are essential. There is no such thing as a non-essential worker. You might say "But what is meant is that the jobs are non-essential." Well, then we should not call the workers non-essential, but even so, there is no legitimate job that is non-essential.

Consider Jesus' ministry. Going out into crowds proclaiming the Gospel. By the standards of the world their is no worker and no job more non-essential than Jesus and His ministry. Yet it is the most essential thing in the world.

Words matter. Let's get out of the mindset of "essential" and "non-essential" and start talking about "safe" and "unsafe." All jobs are essential. Some may be safer to do than others. And let's remember all those suffering in the name of public safety, not just the ones we can see.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Divine Mercy Reflection

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. I attended mass with Fr. Mike Schmitz who gave a wonderful homily. I encourage you to watch the video, but for those who don't, let me add my own reflection, which was stated much more eloquently by Fr. Schmitz.

In Luke 10:27, Jesus gives the two greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” These are actually taken from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" and Leviticus 19:17 "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

It strikes me that these two commandments echo God's principle attributes, justice and mercy. To love God is to love His laws, and to seek justice.  According to justice each should be treated according to what is due. In today's post-Christian world, karma. However, love of neighbor enables us to show mercy, that is, forgiving our neighbor even when he does not deserve it by justice. This, to me, is a great mystery - how God is both mercy and justice.

On Divine Mercy Sunday we are called to contemplate not just how we, through sin, deserve punishment, but rather to trust in God's mercy and forgiveness. Psalm 136 is a good read for today "Praise the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever..."

It is said that nobody is condemned to hell for sin, but rather for refusing God's mercy and forgiveness. But who in their right mind would do such a thing, and why? God's mercy and forgiveness is offered to us through the sacrament of Confession. John 20:21-23:
 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
I know many people who say "Jesus died for my sins, past present or future. I am saved no matter what." But that's not what Jesus says, that's a tradition of men. Others, "I can take my sins directly to God and He forgives me." But that's not what Jesus said, that too is a tradition of men. How do you know you are forgiven? There is one simple way. When a priest, ordained by Jesus, and acting in His name, using the power expressly delegated to him by Jesus, says those words to you "I absolve you from your sin" then, and only then, are you assured that you are indeed forgiven. This is not something the church made up - it is in black and white in the Scriptures.

Are you too embarrassed to go to Confession? Don't believe it is effective, or that it applies to you personally? Don't believe you will be forgiven? Then you are refusing God's mercy, which is being freely offered to you. Please think about this, and I beg you - make an act of contrition today and a firm resolution to go to Confession as soon as you can, and accept the mercy that is being extended to you by God.

"My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.   Amen."

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

According to Matthew 27:45-46:
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This year, given the state of my life, I am reflecting on these words more and more. We are in a time of darkness, disease and quarantine, physically and spiritually, and I am tempted to cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Every day I read that more people have become ill and more people have died, more and more people are losing their jobs, their hope and their faith. Today 196 people died in New Jersey. Has God forsaken us? Did God forsake Jesus on the cross?

Yet the words spoken by Jesus were not His moment of despair, but a teaching moment. Even in His agony Jesus thinks only of us. In fact, there is not one word or action of Jesus that was not for the good of others. This is an amazing revelation to me. These words, that sound like a cry of despair, are actually meant to recall Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel. 
In you our ancestors trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them. 
To you they cried, and were saved;
    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
...
Go ahead and follow the link above and read the whole thing. It alternates between what the psalmist feels at the moment and what he knows to be true of God. The psalm ends in firm trust that God has, in fact, not forsaken him
Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord 
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
    saying that he has done it.
At no time did God forsake His people, at no time did God forsake His Son, nor does He forsake us. In Genesis, God says "Let there be light" and there was, and man is created. At the Crucifixion, there are three hours of darkness until God brings back light, and brings forth the righteous dead from their graves - man recreated anew.

We are in Lent, but Easter is coming. I don't just mean this week, but in our lives. Now is a time for sackcloth and ashes, but I know and believe that after these days of comparative darkness, God will restore the light and bring forth something new and wonderful. And those who died in His love will rise again, for nothing is ever lost with God.

Join me in reading Isaiah 40. This is usually read during Advent, but I think it is particularly appropriate to meditate on the consolation of God.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
from the Litany for the Church in Our Time:
Jesus our God, in these dark hours when Thy Mystical Body is undergoing its own crucifixion, and when it would almost seem to be abandoned by God the Father, have mercy, we beg of Thee, on Thy suffering Church. Send down upon us the Divine Consoler, to enlighten our minds and strengthen our wills.

Thou, O Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived, Who hast promised to be with Thy Church until the End of Time, grant us a mighty faith, that we may not falter; help us to do Thy Holy Will at all times, especially during these hours of grief and uncertainty. May Thy Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Thy Holy Mother be our sure refuge in time and in eternity.
Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Shutting down the church

I've been thinking about our churches being closed, especially in light of VA Governor Northam's insistence that churches be prosecuted for not following his directives. A lot of people on both sides of the issue have made some good points (and some very misinformed points).

First off, no civil leader has the authority to close churches. Period. Northan can rage all he wants. This is still the USA. Governors are making arbitrary decisions of what businesses are "essential." Liquor stores are essential, Pot stores are essential, Abortuaries are essential. Churches, not essential (cue GIF of angry Greta Thunberg).

The bishops, on the other hand, absolutely have the authority to close churches and cancel services. For the most part they have done so. This is problematic. Apparently the bishops don't feel church is essential. Nor do I see the USCCB pushing back and arguing that churches are more essential than abortuaries and pot shops. Instead I see more complaints about money, and pleas to give online than I see complaints about closing doors. In my state there are multiple lawsuits from industries who consider themselves essential but were deemed non-essential: gun stores, gun ranges, bicycle repair shops, phone stores, livestock feed businesses... but not a word from the bishops that public worship is essential. What do you believe is most important?

Before the lock down began in my area, our bishop gave dispensation from attending Sunday mass for those affected by the virus, and asked vulnerable people to stay home. The mass that I attended that week had less than one third of the usual number of attendees (my estimate - I don't have official numbers). We were all able to "social distance" effectively. I don't see why a church that holds 1200 people now can't hold more than 10 for "social distancing." I could fit 200 people in there and the place would still look empty. So why not?

My church is still open for Adoration (which is being held in the 1200 seat portion of the building). This is a blessing, but surprisingly the numbers of people there are no more than usual, maybe less than usual for Lent. But again, no problem social distancing. We are also open for Confession. However, many churches are not offering Confession and I've read some are denying the Extreme Unction (aka Anointing of the Sick) in some cases. These are absolutely essential, and should be employed even more now, rather than less.

The question for our bishops, and for society as a whole, is "what do you believe is most important?" If you believe that Confession actually forgives sins, and people need to have their sins forgiven, then you will offer Confession. Likewise Extreme Unction. If you believe that it is all a sham to make people feel good, then of course, don't expose people to any danger by providing these. Likewise, if you believe the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then by all means masses should be celebrated. If not, who cares if churches are closed? Some parishes are offering outdoor masses, where the faithful attend in their cars. I don't see why that isn't being practiced wherever possible, yet most dioceses don't seem to be permitting it. What do you believe is most important?

Non-religious people say (and some Catholics falsely believe) that they cannot get the virus by receiving the Eucharist. That is not true. But just as I would stay by my wife if she were sick with the virus, even though I could catch it from her, I would risk going to mass, even if I could catch the virus there. Of course such a statement brings immediate scorn from non-believers. What right do I have to engage in behavior that could use up valuable medical resources? The same "right" you have to engage in behavior that could use up valuable medical resources, like homosexual and other "risky" sexual acts, smoking (tobacco or marijuana), tattoos, piercings, etc.

" If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." - 2 Chron 10:13-14
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness
And relenting of evil." - Joel 2:13-14 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Impeach!

OK, nobody asked for my opinion so here it is.

As I understand it, president Trump is being impeached on 2 articles. First, that he abused power, seconds that he "obstructed congress."

On the first charge, the claim is tampering with the 2020 election:
He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage. 
Let's take a closer look at that. The transcript of the call was made public because the Democrats demanded it.I see nothing in the transcript where he asks that the investigation be made public, only that the investigation continue. So, isn't it the Democrats who made it public, and are therefore culpable of the transgression? Or maybe I am misconstruing something... but let's grant that the claims are correct for a second.

It is not a crime for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate crimes; President Trump's "crime" according to the article of impeachment, is that the investigation would embarrass a candidate in the 2020 election... but isn't that exactly what the Democrats are doing? Making a very public investigation into a candidate in the 202 election to benefit their candidate, harm the election prospects of their political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to their advantage? I mean if investigating a political rival in a way which can humiliate them and influence the next election makes one unfit for office, then every Democrat who called for Trump's investigation and impeachment is equally unfit for office using the same criteria.
 
The second article of impeachment claims that president Trump "obstructed congress" - what does that mean, exactly? According to the Congressional Research Service, obstruction of congress consists of:
obstruction of judicial proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1503), witness tampering (18 U.S.C. 1512), witness retaliation (18 U.S.C. 1513), obstruction of congressional or administrative proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1505), conspiracy to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. 371), and contempt (a creature of statute, rule and common law).
On the face of it, it looks bad. President Trump is accused of ignoring lawful congressional subpoenas. But is that what happened? No. President Trump claimed that the subpoenas were not valid, and that he would comply if a court ordered him to. Rather than appealing to a judicial process, congress ignored his request and accused him of ignoring their request.
 
IANAL, but I know that there are limits to what one can subpoena, and particularly when a branch of government is involved. According to this article, SCOTUS is ruling (likely in Trump's favor) on a very similar issue of subpoenas.
 
Ultimately this is a matter for the impeachment court to decide, which is the senate. The fact that the Democrats won't release the charges to the senate so that the president can be tried is a clear indication that the impeachment proceedings are intended to humiliate the president, rather than to actually redress a crime. Of course, that brings me back to the first article of impeachment.

It is unlikely that 2/3 of the senate will vote to remove the president, considering that not even all the Democrats in the house voted for impeachment. I don't know if any of these things are objectively impeachable, but if they are, there's clear evidence that the house Democrats are as guilty as the president, if not more so.

On the other hand, the Democrats have "won" this round. The government is in shambles and the country is divided under the Trump administration due to their actions. And maybe the Republicans won something too. I don't personally like president Trump, but this circus is so far out of the bounds of decency it makes me almost want to vote for him, just to not appear to support this kind of contempt for Constitutional procedings.