Which Comes First: Thought or Writing Implement?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Friedrich Nietzsche, an influential German philosopher of the 19th century, once wrote: “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.   He wrote this about 150 years ago, when typewriters were coming into vogue.   What would he say of our “writing equipment” today?  Our mastery of electronic modes of communication is mind-boggling, and is advancing by leaps and bounds on a yearly basis.

We may pay little attention to this, as if it didn’t matter that much, or, if it did, it’s all for the better.  And yet, if we can turn the clock back to the latter half of the 19th century, when Nietzsche wrote the above, that is, to the time of the Civil War in this country, we have memories of the letter-writing achievements of the men in the blue and the gray as they sat in their trenches on the eve of a major battle, one of the score of such that resulted in the greatest number of fatalities in any war involving Americans.  And these letters, penned or penciled in the trenches of both sides, amid the cold, the dampness, the penury of food, drink, and sleep, and coupled with the certainty that their ranks would be notably diminished over the next few hours.  These letters were written to mothers, wives, sweethearts, daughters and sons, and they were kept and treasured over the years as things of beauty, for such they were.  American TV reconstructed some of these often final messages of love and affection in a memorable series a number of years ago, and as we listen to them now, we wonder how men of 8th grade education, and less, could pen such sentiments of beauty under such forbidding circumstances.  “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.

Our writing equipment, since then, has notably changed.  In matters of correspondence, we no longer need stationery, stamps, pen or pencil.   We can write faster now than then, and in greater volume.  Correspondence has changed from one-on-one to mass production, via facebook or twitter.  Whereas formerly most of us did not have a “public” audience, but expressed ourselves to a limited number of persons, now our thoughts and modes of expression can be shared with many others.  What effect does this have on us?  Do we cease to be a private person, and become a public one?  Must we secure an ID and a password to preserve some measure of privacy.  Does this affect our thoughts, as Nietzsche suggested?  And, in doing so, is it a constraint on us, or an expansion?  Are we forced into silence on certain issues lest we “get in trouble”?  Must we be extra cautious and not express  ourselves in certain ways, lest we suffer consequences?  Is our capacity for doing good expanded, or is writing in a certain way now dangerous?   In short, is great writing now a thing of the past, or has it now become the prerogative of us all?  “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.

Playing the Cards Life Deals

If you watched December 26th’s post wishing you a “Poor 2014” then you may remember how fixing the game of Monopoly, i.e. giving one player more money at the start of the game as well as doubling what they pick up each time they pass “Go” did not make the advantaged player anymore compassionate. In fact, it seemed to do just the opposite. The advantaged player seemed more impressed with what they did to “deserve” their status as winner and seemed to forget they were given a significant edge over their  opponent.   Today’s post shows what can happen when you start out disadvantaged. I warn you though, if you react anything like me, you’ll not only laugh with Maysoon Zayid, you’ll cry with tears of amazement.

Which is it–Love or Mercy?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

The Christmas season brings before our eyes Mary and Joseph gazing lovingly upon the babe in the crib.  We cannot pass through this time of the year without this enthralling scene capturing our focus and attention.  In thinking of God the Bethlehem scene says it all—all, that is to say, about the relationship between God and ourselves.

The birth of Jesus among us as a human being like ourselves is an act of pure initiative on the part of God.  We certainly had no idea it was going to happen.  How could we?  Who would have thought it possible that the infinite and ineffable God would become a human, and a baby, at that?

This reaction is all well and good, and is quite appropriate.  But if we push a bit on it, and ask WHY?  Why did God go to such extremes to bond with us?, well, then, things begin to get a bit fuzzy.  Now, they may not be fuzzy for us.  But, in ages past, as theologians did their usual pondering on matters of faith, they found themselves discussing this question among themselves, and, not only discussing, but also disagreeing.  Now, in a way, we’re not surprised, since theologians have a tendency to disagree—at times, even about matters that seem crystal clear, to the point where they become fuzzy.

WHY did God become human?  Why did He “leave” that most wonderful of all homes (heaven) and, as we say, descend to earth to live among us?  Why did He do this in a rather obscure place (Israel, a tiny nation), and not in a major nation like Rome or Greece or Egypt or Assyria?  And, since presumably He knew from all eternity that He was going to do this, why did He do it at this particular time rather than another?  Why didn’t He choose to be born early on in the history of the human race rather than at a later date (depending on how old we think the human race is)?

One group of theologians, largely Franciscan, maintained that God did what He did out of love—no other reason.  He is so good that He sought a further expression of His goodness, in a compelling and forceful way.  For He is infinitely good.  The birth of His Son in our ranks was His way of expressing  all this—no other reason is needed.  From all eternity He planned to be born and live among us for reasons completely internal to Himself.  He didn’t need us to prod Himself into doing this.  He had His own motivation—to express His love for us.  That explains it all.

But another group of theologians, mainly Dominicans, said: wait a minute.  That doesn’t seem to square with the “facts” (that is, the “facts” we find in the bible).  God became human, in the form of a tiny infant in the crib near Bethlehem, because He was concerned on our account: to help us, to save us from our sins.  We were in big trouble.  We needed all the help we could get.  God came among us, not only to be born one of us, but to grow to adulthood, preach the good news, and, most of all, to die on the cross: why?  For our sins.  Read the bible.  That’s what it says.

To which the Franciscans reply: yes, read the bible.  But it insists that God loves us.  That alone explains why He came among us.  He’s not dependent on our situation determining what He should do.  He operates for His own reasons, and does not need our initiative in His regard.  If there had been no sin on our part, it would have made no difference to God.  He would have chosen to be born among us simply because he loved us.


Seeing God


by James Paulin

Throughout time mankind has sought to have personal encounters with God. Every age and culture has looked to find favor with the powers they imagined that controlled their existence. Many thought they would find God in nature, some in spirits of great powers and some in forces of good and evil. High priests of various populations practiced ceremonies of sacrifice, including humans, which were intended to appease the gods and gain favorable circumstance. The God of the Israelites choose to reveal an identity that was both visible and interactive.

First came the knowledge that no person would be able to bear looking upon the face of God and continue to exist. Then God appeared in the form of a burning bush that was not consumed and spoke to Moses. The next appearance was made in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the chosen people out of the land of Egypt. These were spectacular images to the human experience but were merely all a person could absorb at that moment.

God is unimaginable. There is a wonderful insight into the spirit of God in the way Jesus is presented to us. Just try to imagine, the entity from which all things exists that are both known and unknown, taking a role as a newborn baby to experience our frail humanity. Communication with humans has to be with a common understanding. We all were defenseless babies and were nurtured by our mother and father so God comes to us wrapped in an infant blanket, totally dependant upon the love of Mary. This breaks all barriers between deity and mortal in a manner that permits individual choice to believe or ignore God through the approachable, welcoming, open arms of Jesus who tells us that those who have seen him have also seen the Father who sent him. What a way for God to show His face and yet let us decide if we wish to look and live or turn away.

Choose Life!

Post traumatic stress power—games can help us deal with traumatic stress! Can that possibly be true? In this 20 minute video, Jane McGonigal shows us how we can garner strength and a new zest for life through trauma. Of course she is not suggesting that we go out and create some traumatic stress to achieve this, but she is suggesting what Passionists have for the past three hundred plus years been telling us, i.e. trauma is part of our lives—it’s not meant to “do us in”, but to make us stronger, to help us choose life!

After watching this, I made my 2014 New Year’s resolution. Actually, realizing I rarely followed through for any length of time with such resolutions I quit doing this years ago but I’m going to try again, I’m making a resolution—I’m going to play more games.