Thursday, July 31, 2008

I feel like preaching.

This generation asks for a sign! I get it all the time as a teacher of religion. If God cared about us then why doesn't he show himself? Where's the proof, where? Why should I bother? This doesn't mean anything to me; this doesn't affect me. People can believe anything they want to.

To paraphrase Al Pacino's Satan, if God is in the sky, he's looking down at us and laughing. We're demanding miracles, magic, violations of the laws of physics. Why? Did it ever occur to us that the trash in front of our faces embodies wonders that befuddle Stephen Hawking? That the dirt under your fingernail contains buried within it the secrets of the entire universe? The irony! We imagine that for God to be God he must break the very order he created--and even more humiliating, to do so on demand for the sake of our spectacle. Why? Because we're bored. Bored of creation, bored of ourselves, bored of the world. Unfathomable mysteries unfold before us and we yawn.

God isn't TiVo.

Forget magic tricks for a moment. Want a miracle, look at a jewel, a rock, a speck of dust--don't even bother with an organism, we don't want your mind to explode. Repeating crystalline patterns, circular dances in the air, a vital part of the vast ecological whole, not even alive but containing more intricacy and beauty than we usually envision within ourselves on a daily basis. Amino acids, proteins, organelles, life, heat, energy, water, growth, adaptation, symbiosis. You could live three lifetimes studying a single leaf and beg for more time in the end for fear of not having done it justice.

Don't look for violations of the laws, look to the laws themselves! Heck, forget the laws, look at anything. Don't wonder at why things are the way they are; wonder at why anything is at all. Why is there something, and not nothing. None of This had to exist. And yet It is. And none of it had to arrange itself into self-replicating organic matter; and yet it did. And that matter didn't have to create an intelligent being, one who for the first time self-consciously takes part in the vast mystery of which itself is born.

If you're not thanking the One Mysterious Origin of All for every breath that flies into your lungs and miraculously preserves the felicitous operation of your organism for another 10 minutes, based on the bewildering interwoven dynamisms of the respiratory system, then you are Blind, Oblivious. And to live in oblivion, and to die in oblivion, are not such separate realities.

The Lectionary and the Bible

Interesting note: with apologies to a revered liturgy professor of mine, the Lectionary for the revised Roman Missal does not contain all, or even most of Holy Scripture. From An Introduction to the Homily by Robert Waznak:
The Missale Romanum of 1570 contained about 5 percent of the Bible--1 percent of the Old Testament and 16 percent of the New. The new Lectionary contains approximately 13 percent of the Bible--6 percent of the Old Testament (not counting the Psalms) and 41 percent of the New.
Just an FYI. This has always been a question of mine.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sacraments Curriculum Planning, Step 1: Creating Benchmarks

This series of posts tracks my planning for the next semester according to the Understanding by Design workbook.

As a religion teacher, I do have one major setback: there are currently no national standards for me to reference for lesson planning. The US Bishops have been putting one together for some time--although, frankly, early reports of their output do not look promising. In fact, I think it's an esoteric, hodge-podge, out-of-touch mess. See what happens when you let bureaucrats do anything important? But we haven't seen the final draft yet, so I will hold out hope and pray.

Rather than (just) complain, however, I am going to create my own standards, modeled after the language and design of those used for social studies and history standards.

For example, consider this list of benchmarks by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) relating to "Production, Distribution, and Consumption":

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, so that the learner can:

  1. explain how the scarcity of productive resources (human, capital, technological, and natural) requires the development of economic systems to make decisions about how goods and services are to be produced and distributed;

  2. analyze the role that supply and demand, prices, incentives, and profits play in determining what is produced and distributed in a competitive market system;

  3. consider the costs and benefits to society of allocating goods and services through private and public sectors;

  4. describe relationships among the various economic institutions that comprise economic systems such as households, business firms, banks, government agencies, labor unions, and corporations;

  5. analyze the role of specialization and exchange in economic processes;

  6. compare how values and beliefs influence economic decisions in different societies;

  7. compare basic economic systems according to how rules and procedures deal with demand, supply, prices, the role of government, banks, labor and labor unions, savings and investments, and capital;

  8. apply economic concepts and reasoning when evaluating historical and contemporary social developments and issues;

  9. distinguish between the domestic and global economic systems, and explain how the two interact;

  10. apply knowledge of production, distribution, and consumption in the analysis of a public issue such as the allocation of health care or the consumption of energy, and devise an economic plan for accomplishing a socially desirable outcome related to that issue;

  11. distinguish between economics as a field of inquiry and the economy.

OK, this won't be too hard. For one thing, I do have something like a standard to begin with: the Diocese's standard for Sacraments. It looks like this:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of concepts underlying the Catholic sacramental life and its relationship to lived grace, ritual, prayer, and service.

  2. describe the relationship between Jesus, the Church, and the seven sacraments.

  3. explain the meaning of the Mystery of the Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, Pentecost, Church as the Body of Christ, and their effect on the development of the seven sacraments.

  4. identify major developments in the history of the sacraments.

  5. explain what realities of human life are celebrated by each of the sacraments.

  6. identify the major symbols used in each of the sacraments and the key aspects of ritualizing these sacraments.

  7. explain Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian lifestyle.

  8. examine and explain the liturgical year as an expression of the sacramental life of the Church.

Alas, having taught this class before, I can't leave this list well enough alone. Here is what I have to consider:
  • There is no standard on how to write standards. The NCSS divides their topics thematically while the OAH (Organization of American Historians) does so, unsurprisingly, by chronology.
  • There is also no standard for length or depth; a standard might apply to the entire of subject of "History" (subdivided into World and US) or to a single course within Social Studies, like Geography (the NCSS version is called "People, Places, and Environments")
  • Apparently, when these big organizations write standards, they don't think about the way classes, or even textbook chapters are divided. Consider sacraments. There are seven of them. Every textbook I've seen (admittedly not many) gives each sacrament its own chapter. Are the Diocese's standards divided by sacraments? Of course not!
  • The upshot of this is that standards tend to be "course blind"; they have little to do with the way or order that the class is taught; but the class must have everything to do with them.
  • Note also that individual standards usually begin with one or more of Bloom's Taxonomy verbs.
Let's begin.

First question: how do I divide my standards? Let's lay everything out on the table. I skimmed the Diocesan standards for the buzz words and major themes. Here they are:
  • Catholic sacramental life (lived grace, ritual, prayer, and service)
  • Jesus (Incarnation, Paschal Mystery)
  • Church (Pentecost, Body of Christ)
  • The seven sacraments (their root)
  • History of the sacraments
  • Realities of human life
  • Major symbols and "ritualizing" the sacraments (incl. liturgical objects/items)
  • Eucharist as "source and summit"
  • Liturgical calendar
I would add only two things to this:
  • Diversity in liturgical expression
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
Let's be practical. This calendar year I will have about 16 more-or-less complete weeks (usually 2-3 full periods, and 1-2 shortened periods). There are two other weeks with only two days apiece, plus the two school-days prior to midterms in December (for review). If I give two weeks to each sacrament, that only gives me time for one more unit. I can probably give some sacraments less time--Anointing of the Sick and Confirmation come to mind--freeing up time for a second extra unit.

What basic areas could a unit about a single sacrament cover?
  • Theology (origin, purpose, effects) of the sacrament
  • Biblical origins
  • History
  • Ritual and practice
  • Life realities
OK. So what items from the above list would be neglected if I only had seven units, one for each sacrament?
  • Catholic sacramental life (lived grace, ritual, prayer, and service)
  • Jesus (Incarnation, Paschal Mystery)
  • Church (Pentecost, Body of Christ)
  • Liturgical calendar
  • Diversity in liturgical expression
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
How convenient! It so happens that the above six items can be neatly divided into two units, that I might roughly name: "What is a Sacrament?" and "Liturgy and Sacred Time".

All right, this provides us with a solid ground to build a "standard" for this class. The macro-categories should look like this:
  • God, Christ, and the Church
  • The Catholic Sacramental Vision
  • Liturgy and Sacred Time
  • Origins, Purpose, and Effects of the Sacraments
  • Sacraments in Scripture and Tradition
  • Historical Development of the Sacraments
  • Ritual and Practice
  • Sanctification of Human Life
Whew! Now we have to expand these into specific benchmarks. How many? Well, in this case, the more the merrier. The NCSS has about 6-10 benchmarks per sub-topic.

Here is a skeleton outline for my benchmarks.
  1. God, Christ, and the Church
    1. God as a God of love, creation, and salvation
    2. incarnation, Christ as the sacrament of God to the world
    3. paschal mystery, dying and rising to new life
    4. pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and birth of the Church
    5. images of church, body of Christ, bride of Christ, people of God, temple of the Spirit
    6. human and divine aspects of church
  2. The Catholic Sacramental Vision
    1. desire for god
    2. commandment to pray
    3. sacramentum & mysterium
    4. sacrament as a “mini-incarnation”
    5. definition of a sacrament
    6. distinction between ritual and sacrament
    7. grace as wholly God's undeserved, free gift
    8. sacraments as rooted in the words and actions of Jesus
  3. Liturgy and Sacred Time
    1. time as God's creation
    2. “chronos”, sacred time, and silence
    3. the liturgical calendar
    4. Holy days of obligation
    5. the Missal
    6. the Liturgy of the Hours
    7. leitourgia as the work of God on behalf of his people
    8. sacramentals: liturgy beyond the Seven Sacraments
  4. Origins, Purpose, and Effects of the Sacraments
    1. Eucharist as the source and summit of life
    2. Baptism as the first participation in the Paschal Mystery
    3. Confirmation as the seal of the Spirit and completion of Baptism
    4. Penance as reentry into the Communion of Saints
    5. Anointing as prayer for healing and the mystery of suffering and death
    6. Matrimony as the perfection of human love and the domestic church
    7. Orders as the visible continuation of Jesus' ministerial presence
    8. all sacraments and uniting and sanctifying the Body
  5. Sacraments in Scripture and Tradition
    1. prefiguration of the sacraments in the Old Testament
    2. the words and actions of Jesus
    3. primordial sacraments in Acts of the Apostles
    4. Christ as the High Priest in Hebrews
    5. Paul's theology of the Body of Christ and Bride of Christ
    6. Revelation as a liturgical text
    7. writings of the Church Fathers--the Didache, the Apostolic Tradition, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Augustine, Cyprian
  6. Historical Development of the Sacraments
    1. concept of development in continuity
    2. Jewish precursors
    3. liturgy in the early Church
    4. developments, corruptions, and innovations of the middle ages
    5. challenges of the Reformation and the Catholic reform
    6. the Second Vatican Council and subsequent developments
  7. Ritual and Practice
    1. the spirit of the liturgy
    2. signs vs. symbols
    3. the meanings of symbols
    4. the parts of the Mass
    5. liturgical objects
    6. lay participation
    7. law, culture, and diversity of practice
  8. Sanctification of Human Life
    1. sacraments uphold and sanctify central human life realities
    2. experience of “church”
    3. concept of a “sacramental life”
    4. sacraments as the fuel of service
    5. sacraments as the transformation of ordinary life
Obviously this list is lacking in detail, but it's a start.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ordo Ultra Intellecto - Expansio Sine Termino

Lots of people my age have tattoos. I don't have anything against tattoos in particular, but I would almost never choose to get one myself. Why? I have some respect for the permanence of tattoos and the sanctity of the body. I would grieve the loss of my skin's pristine state all the more if it were given over to something I thought was unworthy or that I would tire of later in life.

What about a religious tattoo? Well, that is an earnest and hardy expression of devotion, I suppose. Yet just as I would not want to cheapen my body with an unworthy expression, I would not want to cheapen a sacred emblem with my unworthy body. What worse way to compound my sins, than to brandish the Virgin about my arm as I indulged in them?

What I designed above is something like a happy median. The cross in the center is actually an afterthought and by no means essential to the symbol's meaning. Like the film "Donnie Darko," the choice to remove overt religiosity does not rob the expression of its religious truth. It is simply a matter of the intended effect and the audience.

Of course, I have no serious intention of branding myself with the above at all. But it came to mind as a result of asking myself the question: what, if anything, would I ever allow to be permanently etched into my skin? There, you can see, is a fruitful question for thought.

I am fascinated by the Divine Proportion.

"[The Golden Ratio is a universal law] in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form." - Adolf Zeising

Now, I have read and understand that Zeising and other authors have overstated the prevalence of the Golden Ratio. (Or have they? I need to confer with a friend of mine who has done some research in this area).

I love the Golden Ratio for three reasons. First, it remains mysterious after 2400 years. Second, it reveals something very much like intelligence in nature.

But third and most importantly, the Golden Ratio upsets dualism. The spiral destroys the Yin-Yang. Embodied within the Ratio is a basic fact arising from deep within nature and the fabric of our being: nature is not the result of the opposition of polar entities. Being is not divided into equal and opposite halves. The recursive folds of a shell reveal that underneath, and prior to the fact of opposition in nature is the fact of intricate, madly coincidental, interdependent movements. What is more, the forces of nature working together are neither equal nor subordinate. The Golden Ratio shows that ideological egalitarianism is contrary to nature, even while it bestows something like a democratic dignity to every particle of matter in its influence. The Ratio is 1.618~, not 1, not 2, not 1.5, not anything rationally divisible into equal halves. Beauty and life arise from the very fact of irreconcilable difference, irreducible otherness. Dualism can be reduced to monism, but the Ratio cannot be reduced to monism.

That is why I consider the shell here the perfect representation for the words, "Order Beyond Understanding." There is order, but it is order that eludes us, slips through our fingers, leaves us in awe even while it frustrates our disordered appetite to possess and control through science. It lends itself to our music but hides from our laboratories.

The true, good, and beautiful available to us in nature. point us (if we do not make idols out of them) toward that One who is the completion and the supercession of all of them. Order, yes, but order beyond finite understanding. Supra-order; trans-order, the Order that is Lord of both order and chaos, the Life that is Lord of both life and death.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Calling all Latin scholars!

I have a slogan I would like to have translated into correct Latin.

Order Beyond Understanding; Openness Without Limit

The first part I imagine will be something like: Ordo Supra Intelleco. That's not so hard.

The second one is tougher. I want the word for "openness" to retain the literal sense of being "wide open" and the figurative senses of being receptive, welcoming, and generous.

EDIT: I suspect that this word will be the substantive form of the verb accipio, accipere (to accept, to welcome). Accipere Sine Termino - "To welcome without end"? Acceptio Sine Termino - "Welcoming without end?"

Ordo Supra Intellecto, Acceptio Sine Termino?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Torture and Capital Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology

This article, by Msgr. Brian W. Harrison, does an awesome job of reviewing the Scriptural and doctrinal history, and the moral theology surround the question of the intentional infliction of physical pain. This is an area of moral theology of great interest to me. Expect a review later.

Rethinking Windows Vista

I run XP SP3 on my home-built computer. I initially tried to run Ubuntu on it. Worked like a charm. But the instructions for getting Oblivion to run in Ubuntu were kind of a bear. I love Ubuntu, but the only way to gaurantee I could run my favorite games on this system was to go back to Mother Microsoft. Oh well.

A good friend of mine often joins me in lampooning Windows Vista whenever we chat on the phone. We've thrown around the phrase that Vista is the new "Windows ME" a few times. Unfortunately, XP is now available only through eBay, buying an "ultra low-cost PC" (like the Eee), or as a free downgrade included with expensive Vista Ultimate or Business models from major PC manufacturers.

I decided to see what the devil's advocates of the "Vista Sucks" campaign had to say. I found Ed Bott. I like Ed Bott. And Ed Bott likes Vista. Reading his articles gave me a lot to think about when it comes to comparing Vista to XP. Here are some points that I learned by reading his articles:

  • Slow enterprise adoption of any new Windows OS is expected and typical. You've probably heard this argument before. I suspected that it was only so much market-speak defensive spluttering. This article persuaded me otherwise.
  • Vista SP1 performs as fast as XP SP3 in games. See Ed's explanation and some spot on editorial criticism of bad journalism here.
  • Many "Vista Sucks" complaints can be attributed to bloatware loaded by PC manufacturers; a clean install (like I would do for any Windows OS) is a must.
There were several other tidbits in there that made me feel substantially better about one day owning a Vista PC. I like the fact that Ed Bott is often as critical as he is praising of Microsoft. Sometimes I think he's a little too pleased about Windows DRM. And I didn't like his criticism of the "ugly" "Windows Classic" visual style, which I use on every Windows computer I can (I'm sorry, I just have a thing for gray buttons).

Essentially, what my revised opinion comes down to is this: Since Vista no longer offends my gamer's sensibilities, and it can be pared down to near-XP resource usage, I'll use it when I need it. But it will take more than respect to get me to pay $200 for an operating system, no matter what it is.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

2006 philosophy rants, ala legal pad

There was a brief "dark age" in the summer of 2006 when I did not have a computer to take notes on. During that time I committed my logorrhea to legal pad paper. Some of these notes are still useful, and I don't like having ancient paper archives around, so I have saved them in JPG format for posterity.

WHEN is Blogger going to let me upload PDFs?