Saturday, March 28, 2009

Funny Conversation this Morning

Miguel (my son): "Where ya' going dad?"

Me: "To Church for confession. You want to go with me?"

Miguel: "Nahh.. I don't have anything I need to confess."

Me: (Suspicious look)

Miguel: "Why are you going to confession?"

Me: "So I can get my sins forgiven."

Miguel: "Ahh dad... I forgive you for yelling at me."

Me: ..... (Smile) "I sure appreciate it. I'm just not sure that's the kind of sacramental efficacy I'm looking for."

Miguel: "Huh?"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Does the Doctrine of Real Presence Amount to Cannibalism?

From my post on Called to Communion:
Jesus points out that eating food is a physical process. It goes in physically, is physically digested, and then discarded. It doesn’t enter the heart and therefore does not defile. This isn’t dualism, just common sense. Now it follows that if something cannot cause spiritual harm by a purely physical process, it cannot cause spiritual benefit by a purely physical process.
Read the whole post here: Real Presence - Does it Mean Cannibalism?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eternal Life

Boethius defines eternity thus, "the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life." Aquinas poses an interesting objection to this definition:
eternity signifies a certain kind of duration. But duration regards existence rather than life. Therefore the word "life" ought not to come into the definition of eternity; but rather the word "existence."(Summa 1.10.1)
God, to whom alone it belongs to be eternal (Summa 1.10.3), doesn't just exist as a cosmic force, He lives eternally. We may talk about other beings having eternal life, but their life is in and through the Holy Trinity who is life and life eternal(Jn 6:51, 14:6). Aquinas replies:
What is truly eternal, is not only being, but also living; and life extends to operation, which is not true of being. Now the protraction of duration seems to belong to operation rather than to being; hence time is the numbering of movement.

Another Former PCAer to be Confirmed this Easter

Please visit In Hoc Signo Vinces, the blog of Bobby J. Kennedy who after the PCA and Episcopal church is scheduled to be confirmed this Easter vigil.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Orthodox Patristics

I recently stumbled upon Monachos, a site "dedicated to the study of Orthodox Christianity through its patristic, monastic and liturgical heritage." In addition to a wealth of source texts and a sharp looking site, it has podcasts and a patristic Wiki. It's bittersweet for me to find this existing Wiki because I know what the perfect name would have been, as I once suggested to Phil Snider, "Paristikiwiki". Can you name any other Wiki that is as fun to say?

Anyhow, check out the site.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Story of Two Fathers

The scene: Quiapo market. Again. We were leaving in a jeepney one early morning and as we waited for passengers to board, I saw a young girl (maybe 9) crying by a merchant stand. She buried her head in shame and wasn't about to be consoled. Then a man in his 40s (I assume her father) came and yelled at her harshly. No one paid any mind on this busy street corner. She didn't respond. He slapped her in the face. More crying. I don't know what was going on (obviously) and she may have well deserved punishment for some wrong doing. But it sure was uncomfortable and whatever she had done - he was clearly handling the wrong way.

The jeepney was taking unusually long to load. I watched as he left and she continued her sobbing. He returned a few minutes later with a stiff broom and yelled some more. Then he swatted her legs. This wouldn't fly in America. He wasn't really hurting her, but if he was, I think I would have had to get up and stop him. But that's the sort of thing you do when you're looking for a serious fight and well, the jeepney drove off just a little later anyhow. Whatever the story behind this incident, this was the story of an irrational father and a little girl who will have to pay for this poor upbringing when she gets older. It's not going to be easy.

Same area, different day, different father. I waited outside a busy shop one evening while my wife picked out some new kitchenware for our restaurant. Manila might be the busiest place I've ever been, but Filipinos are never in a hurry. I was exhausted so I stayed outside while she shopped. I sat down on the concrete steps to watch a little boy and his sister (just toddlers) playing a wonderful game of... circular thing that we hold. It was made of variously colored straws they had pieced together. Clearly there was no object to the game but to enjoy this circle they had constructed. Every time it broke as they tried to pick it up, the little girl would burst into laughter and big brother would fix it. Dad was there. He understood the game. He played along a little with them in between straightening his wares. I could see the love on his face. I thought to myself as I observed, "this is a good man."

Only a few moments later, he noticed me and offered a small plastic stool to this white stranger "you sit here my friend." I was exhausted from walking all day and that stool was well appreciated. For a brief second I nearly refused in customary politeness but I rethought my decision A) I really would like that stool B) it would honor him to accept this gift C) and I really would like that stool. So I accepted and I'm still not sure why this small act of kindness meant so much to me. So that is my simple story, a story of two fathers. I couldn't help but notice the contrast between them. One irrational, angry and hurtful; the other treated a stranger better than the first treated his daughter.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another Presbyterian Heads to Rome Via Canterbury

Kevin Branson, a former Calvinist involved in the Federal Vision movement, is to be confirmed this Easter. Like several others I know, he went from Calvinist Presbyterian to Anglican and will soon be crossing the Tiber. Check out his blog "Journey to Rome".

Living in Poverty

It's one thing to see poverty from a comfortable distance and another to actually live in it (even if for a short time). In the Philippines, I stayed in what would be considered impoverished conditions in America. But I never felt like I was "living in poverty". (Maybe, they'd say it's because I only visited poverty. It's one thing to drop by for a few days, maybe another to see no end to these conditions.)

St. John Chrysostom said that luxury debases man. He was profoundly correct. Living in luxury tends to hide our humanity behind a superficial veil of material possession. I felt more.. human in the Philippines. I woke up every day to sunlight and the busy sounds of humans going about their business: opening their shops, sweeping the sidewalk, listening to music and kids playing in the streets (let's not forget the Jeepneys and motorcycles.. Manila is one of the largest and busiest metro areas in the world). I'd go downstairs and take a quick, cold shower and go right outside. 10 minutes after waking I'd be a stone's throw from 200 neighbors and arms length from a half dozen. Other people. In America, I stay isolated in my suburban house for longer just getting ready in the morning. Then I drive 30 minutes to sit at a desk and work on a computer.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I think most people's spirituality consists entirely of showing up on Sunday morning with that unmistakable and patently absurd "bless your heart" demeanor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Health Care in the Philippines

Health care in the Philippines, moderate lack of sanitation notwithstanding, is superior to America's commercialized industry. (I'm sure when Obama's plan kicks in, I'll have to eat my words...[sarcasm])

In the Philippines, a magical thing happens when you get sick. You go to the drug store and buy a pill and you're cured. My sister in law came down with something (symptoms showed up, she obviously had it before she came to the Philippines) that in America would have cost several hundred dollars (less whatever insurance paid), a trip to the doctors and to the pharmacy and the several hours associated with such. In the Philippines, it was a matter of a 5 minute trip to the drug store and something like 3 US dollars. Within a few hours, she felt much better and consuming the remainder over the next few days, she was completely cured.

At one point, I complained of a stuffy nose (couldn't breathe through it at all). One of my bystanding relatives walked to the drug store and came back with a solitary pill (wrapped). About 15 minutes later, I noticed that my nose was completely unstuffed never to be stuffed again for the remainder of my trip. What the heck?! In America, if you have a stuffy nose, they have some crap that costs a fortune and will make you feel really weird but it sure as hell ain't gonna do anything about your nose.

I'm also fond of their anti-bacterial lozenges called Strepsil which contain Vitamin C. These things do wonders for colds, sore throats, and bronchitis. On my last trip to the Philippines, the day before I left to go there I fell miserably ill with a severe cold and bought Strepsil on arrival. This trip, they helped me abuse cigarettes. :| Not a good thing. No, I don't smoke. Except when I feel like it.

Anyhow, I contracted a bug while I was there (I think it was something I ate) and though I didn't feel too bad, we decided to go to the doctor just to make sure it was ok before I got on the plane. It was Sunday so the emergency room was the only option. We had to drive about 10 or 15 minutes through dense city streets to get there (which means that there are relatively few hospitals per capita) and there was a single doctor on staff and maybe 3 or 4 nurses. 10 minutes of wait. That's right, 10 minutes. Bill? $12 (including medication). I've had 3 emergency room visits here in America over the last 2 years (wife & kid - they have a knack for getting sick on weekends) and all three have been at least 2 hours of waiting and something like a month's wage. In America they have a half dozen doctors, 2 dozen nurses, a hospital on every corner and you can stop in on Sunday night 2 AM and you'll have to wait for 2 hours to be seen. Many Americans don't realize that runny noses are not medical emergencies. American test for allergic reaction to drugs: "Are you allergic to any drugs?" In the Philippines, they do a skin test to prevent an allergic reaction.

So, what can be done to fix the problems in America? Stop with the prescription drug scam for starters. Let people self medicate. I can't even get medicine for my dog without shelling out money to the vet. In 95% of cases where I didn't already know exactly what was wrong with me and exactly what medicine I needed, the doctor has proved useless. Certain things could remain controlled substances (addictive pain killers for example) but anti-biotics? Come on...

Something seriously needs to be done about emergency rooms but I think giving people the ability to purchase drugs that work without going to a doctor first would dramatically help this problem.

Another thing: let medical insurance go back to being insurance and not pre-payment for unneeded service. The reduction in unnecessary trips to the doctors which self medication would allow would itself lower the insurance premiums but if we actually paid for only major coverage and not for trivial things, this would lower the cost further. Companies paying for employee insurance also adds to the problem. Legislation forcing insurance to cover more types of treatment also makes it more expensive. (Someone needs to let President Obama know this. His plan for reduction of health care costs consists of raising taxes and forcing insurance companies to cover more. Sheer genius.)

My company's health plan is ridiculously bad. To cover my family (of 3) costs something like $850 per month with a $3,000 deductible reimbursable by the company down to $1,000. So that means, I need to have ($850 x 12) + $1,000 worth of medical costs each year just to break even with my expenses. That's $11,200. Seriously. If something happens that's going to cost me $12,000, I'll pay $1,000 for a plane ticket to the Philippines and get the treatment for $50.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Commerce in the Philippines

Second note to self: Stop asking Filipinos what they do for a living. This is standard American small talk but in the Philippines, it's down right rude. Seriously. Want to know how rude it is? I stopped at a certain spot two or three years ago where some of my wife's friends hang out. There was a guy there named Mike and as my wife talked to some other friends, I made small talk. "So what do you do for a living?" He answered politely - something in television broadcast but I cant remember. Come to find out, he was turned off by my rudeness unbeknownst to me and later told my wife. Same spot, same situation, different guy, last week I asked the same question. Oops! As soon as I asked I apologized and explained that this was normal in my culture. He says "I heard that you asked Mike about his job." That's how rude it is. This guy, who I just met, was aware of the incident that happened over 2 years ago!

The Philippine economy is distributism in action (I guess). I'm attracted to the idea of distributism but like most economic or political ideologies, it probably doesn't play out in the real world without serious draw backs. The Filipinos are loving some imported capitalism (i.e. large corporate call centers). You know... those tech support centers we always call and complain about having to endure the accent of a foreigner during our free call. While we're complaining to our friends about how they're hard to understand and they stole our jobs, that young man or woman is using their $6 a day salary to support an extended family who otherwise might not even eat.

As for the commercial endeavors of the average Filipino - it seems standard, at least in metro Manila, to own one's own business. Generally, this means a small food or merchandise stand using which, you sell items which you purchased in bulk for a marginal profit. Outside my restaurant, I spoke with a man, I'd say in his 50s. He and his family run a fabric stand and a cigarette tray. I asked him how his business was, and in broken but understandable English he replied, "Sometimes good. Sometimes bad, but its enough for my family to eat rice." We just don't have that sort of perspective here do we? I asked about his profit margin. He makes just a few cents on each pack of cigarettes. If he sells one piece of fabric, he makes 20 pesos (about 40 cents). And in case you're wondering, no it's not a high traffic business. He sent a child to Quiapo to buy two pillows to resell (sometimes customers ask about pillows he said). So he stood ready for business with two Pokemon pillows. His story is a typical one from what I can gather from surveying the streets.

My restaurant is run the same way I suppose. My wife's brother manages it. We have a few employees and they work on wages that would be criminal here. Each day around 8PM while the restaurant is still slow, someone cooks a large pot of rice and some seasoned meat (usually chicken or pork). Everyone eats, it's part of their salary. When the sun comes up, the customers leave and one of the staff will walk down to the market and buy some delicious rolls to share with the rest. Next everyone sleeps. We have a back room that can sleep 5 or 6 comfortably. Well, it might not seem comfortable to many Americans.

Poverty. I'm not even sure what this word means any more. I know one thing, this word has lost all its meaning in America - not because we don't have it; but because to us it means 'non-luxury'. The fact is that we Americans live luxuriously. For us, anyone who doesn't spend 24 hours a day in an air conditioned room (or at least have that option) is living in poverty. For us, poverty means sitting around all day and having the government take care of you. I think in other places, the last thing poverty means is sitting around. It means getting up and looking for food. So much for now.

Patristic Carnival XXI

Phil has the latest patristic carnival up and running. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Church in the Philippines

I have survived my third trip to the Philippines and had a wonderful time. A few unorganized thoughts in the upcoming post(s):

Mega Churches
This term is laughable as commonly applied to American ones. Lakewood Church in America is supposedly the largest church in the US with 43,500 members in 2008. (1) This is small potatoes compared to any parish I know of in Manila. I visited three parishes while I was there. The first was only full.. maybe 2,000 in attendance I guess? It was the 7:00 PM Sunday service. Most of the parishes have mass every hour on the hour all Sunday long in addition to however many vigil services they might have. That parish alone may have had 40,000 in attendance that weekend. This probably translates to twice as many members.

Quiapo. Holy communicants batman! As we pushed our way through the crowded streets of the Quiapo market and I noticed the vendors gradually becoming sellers of religious items (rosaries, candles, incense etc...) I knew we must be nearing the famous church. We rounded a corner into a packed square. When I say standing room only, I mean it took us about 10 minutes to cover 50 yards across the edge of the square, pushing our way through the dense crowd. I don't know how many people the church holds inside, if my memory serves me correct - something like 4,000 normally sitting, and I'd guess 15,000 with standing room. That's just inside though. There had to be 20,000 or more between me and the church building standing outside praying and watching the huge monitors. And that's only what I could see. It looked like a Stones concert or something. This wasn't Sunday morning mass though, this was Friday afternoon prayers! There is a miraculous statue there "the Black Nazarene" and this is why the people gather on Fridays there.

St. Peter's Cathedral - Quezon City

On the Sunday before we left, I was priveleged to experience another mass with standing room only. The 7 PM service let out (crowds flooded out to the bottom of the steps) and the 8PM service had no seats left by the time we were able to make it inside. I can't figure out what diocese it was in, I'm surprised that Quezon City doesn't seem to have its own diocese (city has 2.7 million people) but I'm sure the mass was celebrated by the bishop (he was sitting in the bishop's chair) and I received the Blessed Sacrament from him.

It would be easy to be romantic about all this. But the Church in the Philippines has problems similar to America. A lot of casual dress (though imminently more understandable there - very hot and no AC makes shorts rather acceptable I suppose), holding hands during the Our Father, general lack of participation, terrible music (bishop's chanting excepted) and during the last mass there were two women near me who were talking and laughing obnoxiously through most of the Liturgy of the Word and homily. At least they started behaving like adults during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Funny thing is, I saw a sign on the parish just two blocks from my wife's house where we were staying, "Traditional Latin Mass Every Sunday". SWEET!!! On closer inspection though, it was SSPX. Bummer. Maybe by the next time I visit the Philippines, it will be licit for me to attend there.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Soli Deo Gloria

Soli Deo Gloria, (Glory to God Alone), is the subject of my first peer reviewed article on Called to Communion. Since posting will be light here until I return, I thought I'd share it.
it does no good to quote the Catholic Catechism saying, “Our justification comes from the grace of God,” or “Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us,” if Christians in the Reformed tradition object on the ground that the Catholic Catechism also says, “Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us.” But this is not a quotation from the council of Trent or Vatican I or even Aquinas; this is St. Augustine! At this fateful point where Reformed theology and Catholic doctrine collide with uncompromising force, the Catholic Church unambiguously preserves the ancient and precisely Augustinian doctrine, and this should not be lightly dismissed by anyone who claims that the Bishop of Hippo was a forebearer of Reformed soteriology.
Read the whole thing here: Soli Deo Gloria, a Catholic Perspective.