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Guest Post: Pabst Blue Ribbon and Other Good Things I Plan on Enjoying in Heaven

9790172_1 Christianity that is not entirely and altogether eschatology has entirely and altogether nothing to do with Christ. - Barth

[This post is the result of a fascinating 2 hour conversation Greg and I had a few weeks ago. I couldn't resist forcing him to write some of his ideas, observations, and insights down in a glorious guest post. Enjoy. Hopefully we'll be hearing from Greg again soon!]

Karl Barth wrote those words some 80 years ago, and judging by this criterion, I’m left wondering if the 21st century Catholicism I hear spoken of every day has anything to do with Christ.  For too long non-biblical language has plagued traditional thinking, writing, and preaching regarding salvation, heaven, and consequentially, the human person.  The “Kingdom of God” has become a synonym for “Heaven” - the “spiritual”, gaseous place you go when you die (if you’re lucky) - and the Cross and Resurrection have been watered down to simply mean “Jesus opened heaven for us”.  “Heaven” has become equated with “good”, and “earth” equated with “bad”.  Christians talk joyfully about the hope of “heaven” and “eternal life” as the ultimate fulfillment of all of man’s desires, while non-invested Modern Man watches on from the other side of the glass, careful not to tap on the window, severely doubting the idea of some disembodied “eternal life” awaiting us and greatly questioning whether he would even want to go there.

He realizes something is wrong with the Christian’s message.  There’s no way the expanding Cosmos worked so hard, for so long, just to produce self-aware beings that could one day die and escape this mess for eternal bliss.  More so, how in the world is it fair, or just, or great, for God to “reward” our suffering here in our bodies with some sort of disembodied, “spiritual” existence in Heaven?  No.  Nonsense.  Better to face the grim reality of decay and entropy: these carbon-based bodies simply die, and one day the universe will either collapse back in on itself or continue expanding fruitlessly into the cold abyss.  Escapism can’t be the answer.

And, well, he’s right.  The point of the Resurrection is not “we can go to heaven now”.  The Resurrection is the beginning of God’s new universe.  The sooner we get this right, the sooner we can enter into meaningful dialogue with those around us, offering a Hope worth living for.

“The Resurrection is a wondrous event which is not only absolutely unique in human history, but which lies at the very heart of the mystery of time.” – JPII, Dies Domini, 2.

A brief look at the New Testament offers a radically different hope than the one often preached.  The significance of the Resurrection in the New Testament is not that Jesus “died and rose so we can go to heaven when we die”, but rather God is going to do for us, and for the entire Cosmos, precisely what He did for Jesus; namely, Resurrection.  The Resurrection means, ultimately, that God’s New Creation has finally been launched.  The risen Jesus is the “first fruits” of this New Universe, and one day God is going to harvest the rest of His crop (us).  In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks of our current fleshly bodies being sown in the earth to one day be raised as “spiritual bodies” -- meaning these very bodies will be animated by God’s Spirit, not “spiritual” in some non-physical, gaseous sense – and in Romans 8 he speaks of our redemption as simultaneously the redemption of Creation.  Combine these verses with the “New Heavens and New Earth” of the book of Revelation, mix in 2000 years of theological reflection and scientific progress, and you get this Eschatological take from the CCC:

1042: At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:

The Church . . . will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.

1043 Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, "new heavens and a new earth." It will be the definitive realization of God's plan to bring under a single head "all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth."

1044 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

In other words, Jesus is going to be bringing Heaven with Him.  The Resurrection launched the beginning of God’s New Creation, but in the end, Heaven will come in full.  “Knowledge of the Lord” will cover the cosmos like “waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).  Scripture uses an analogy for what will occur between Heaven and the Universe: marriage.

van eyck adoration of the lambs-resized-600

“The Resurrection of Jesus is the seminal event from which the New Creation has already begun to grow.” – John Polkinghorne

The pattern for this great act of Resurrection is the Resurrection of Jesus.  The Risen, glorified Jesus appears in the Gospels in varying scenarios, but there is one strand that runs though all of the accounts: the disciples fail to recognize Him at first, only to come to realize that it is indeed Jesus after some act of His.  He is clearly different, but also clearly still Himself.  He passes through walls and appears at will, but also eats with them and allows them to touch His wounds.

So it will be with us.  We will receive transformed, glorified bodies.  I will still be Greg, but Glorified Greg.  More shockingly (grab your hats), so will it be with the universe.  Matter, space, and time are the form for this current cosmos, and we ought to expect some form of these three in the “world to come” that we profess hope in each Sunday (though the third part of that triad is admittedly contestable).  We will live in a new world, after all. In this new universe, God will have his dwelling among men. It’s going to be a glorified party (the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is not a Baptist wedding).  There will be glorified adventure to be had.  My friends (God-willing) will be gloriously there.  I’m going to drink glorified PBR.  I’m going to go glorified whitewater rafting down the glorified rivers of Maine.  Perhaps I’m getting a bit carried away (I’m definitely getting carried away) -- The point is, as author/physicist/theologian/Anglican priest John Polkinghorne reiterates: nothing good is lost in the Lord.  Polkinghorne recounts a particularly poignant story: When asked what he would do if he was told the world would end tomorrow, Martin Luther replied, “I’d plant a tree.”  Bingo.  Nothing good is lost in the Lord.

Such is the grandeur of Christian hope.  Rather than allowing the expanding universe to collapse back in on itself or ceaselessly expand into desperate nothingness, the Resurrection tells us that God has given a definitive Yes to His good Creation.  In a divine act of Resurrection, all things will be made glorified, and man will live forever in this new universe.  This is Heaven. This is Christian Hope. The challenge for us 21st Century evangelically minded Catholics (Hey, Weigel) is, I think, to recover this language of Resurrection and New Creation.  We ought to be joyfully inviting others to be challenged by the Resurrection: Why live your life running from pleasure to pleasure or giving the finger to the expanding cosmos in despair when the hope of the Resurrection is knocking on your door?

A preoccupation with the “Four Last Things” handed on to us from the Medieval era has minimalized the importance of Resurrection, making it, at best, a strange bonus add-on to “Heaven”.  This isn’t Biblical, and especially since Vatican II, it isn’t Church teaching either.  Yes, we believe that when one dies their soul goes to be with God and they behold the Beatific Vision while they await their resurrected bodies, and yes, we can refer to this as “Heaven”.  But if we speak as though this is the goal of Christian life, we are literally castrating the Gospel: we are robbing the Resurrection of its potency.

One last point; God has redeemed us entirely, as persons.  The Resurrection tells me that God loves me so much, as Greg, that He desires to be with me in all of my awkward Arabic hairiness, receding hairline and all (although I expect that to be corrected in my future glorified awesomeness).  He  didn’t merely “save my soul” – body/soul dualism is blatantly rejected by Scripture – He saved me.  This also means that what we do in the body matters: this is why Theology of the Body (and the 1st Letter to the Corinthians) exists.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The practical impact of the Resurrection on Christian living is the topic of my next post.

Greg is a MA Theology student at Providence College in Providence, RI. Follow @gchurst.

Interested in learning more? CCC 988-1019, 1042-1050 International Theological Commission: Communion and Stewardship N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope John Polkinghorne’s The God of Hope and the End of the World JPII Dies Domini 2

Being Catholic Isn't An Excuse for Crap Writing: Lessons from a Journalist

writting If you've read my post about evangelization and cheese, you might not be surprised when I say that evangelistic efforts can't lack quality. Regardless of how true the Catholic faith is, if you can't communicate it effectively the truth will fall on deaf ears.

I'm not the greatest writer (shocker I know) and wanted some help in this area so I asked good friend Arleen Spencely to share some of her knowledge and experience as a writer, blogger, and journalist. Listen up!


Five Blogging Tips from a Journalist - Arleen Spenceley

Lots of what I know about blogging is what I learned in a newsroom – what I learned at the first desk on the left side of a Tampa Bay Times bureau, where on July 23, 2007, I marveled at the privilege of my new reality: “I can’t believe I work here.”

That day – my first as a Times staff writer – I was a college kid, now with Pulitzer Prize-winning colleagues, a press badge and a dream come true. That semester, the summer before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I discovered what I never expected I would:

You learn a lot more in newsrooms than in classrooms.

I wrote in Times newsrooms until December 2012, when, after five years on staff, I resigned to finish my master’s degree. I look back with gratitude, for great memories and a skill set I still use. What I learned in newsrooms, I’ve discovered, transfers seamlessly to blogs. Here are the four lessons I use most:

If you’re gonna write, you’ve got to read. And you’ve got to read good writing. At the paper, I’d spend 20 minutes browsing Times archives for stories by better writers than I before beginning to write my own. I’d read stories by Pulitzer winners and nominees, riveted by the result of their talent and experience. Then, I’d emulate it (or try). This also works when you blog (but don’t just read blogs! Read books, good newspapers, and/or magazines.)

Talk to strangers. We are surrounded by the people who surround us for a reason. We are also surrounded by good stories. One morning, I parked outside a Tampa bureau of the Times and crossed paths with a handful of young cyclists, circling the lot on bikes. My gut said “talk to them.” So, I did. As it turns out, the cyclists were siblings (among them, the drummer from rock band Anberlin) preparing to train for a 5k with their grandfather – the last one he intended to run, because knee pain pushed him to retire from running. It became one of the favorite stories I wrote – and I only wrote it because I talked to strangers.

Your senses are your friends. Whether what you write reads well might depend on whether you use them. Without senses, the 9/11 first responder you write about couldn't see through smoke. With senses, “Pulverized debris settled like dust on the city. (He) breathed it in. His mouth tasted like metal, but he worked.” Facts are fabulous, but details – which we find by using our senses, or borrowing the senses of the people about whom we write – are better. If you aren’t there to see, smell, hear, taste, or touch it, ask your story’s subject what they saw, smelled, heard, tasted, or felt.

Writer’s block doesn't exist. One afternoon in a newsroom, I buried my face with my hands and shook my head in front of a blank screen. A seasoned colleague noticed. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Writer’s block,” I said. “But writer’s block doesn't exist,” he said. If you’re a writer, you can write. When you feel like you can’t, it isn't because you can’t. It’s because you need more information. Gather it. Browse the web for blog fodder. Conduct a follow-up interview. Talk to strangers again. The ability you thought you lost will come back when you do.



Arleen Spenceley is a Roman Catholic writer who primarily writes about love, chastity, and sex, and wrote for the Tampa Bay Times for five years. She blogs at, tweets @ArleenSpenceley, and Facebooks (is that a word?) here. Click here to read the feature story about a 9/11 first responder she quoted above and wrote in 2011.

Interview with "By Way of Beauty" Creator Matthew

ByWayOfBeauty If there is one Catholic website out there that, in my opinion, more people should be following and reading, it is By Way of Beauty. Matthew generously agreed to allow me to pick his brain, and he provided some great insights on culture, beauty, and evangelization.

I've been growing increasingly interested in culture and its ability to evangelize and engage our society, and By Way of Beauty is a great example of engaging the already existing culture in a profound way.

The greatest part is that it is evangelistic by its very nature and not preachy or contrived. Matthew and Wes sit by the streams of art and entertainment pointing out the underlying big questions and truths just below the surface. The resulting articles are hard to stop reading.

[I'm in bold, Matt's words are not bolded.]

Matt, can you tell us how By Way of Beauty was born into the internet world?

My brother Wes and I started the site in the summer of 2011 using Blogger. We didn’t know much about the blog world or read any blogs. What we did do, though, was talk a lot about art. Whenever we watched a movie together, we had a little tradition of talking about philosophical and theological ideas we found in it afterward over drinks. It was a sort of natural progression into writing articles. Eventually we decided to get on the Internet and share our jabbering with whoever wanted to read it, which was great because we could use video, pictures, and links. The response has been really spirited.

You write about all sorts of scandalous things: Rapper Kendrick Lamar, books like "A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion", and "The Mysognist", Television like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, movies like The Rum Diary and The Cabin in the Woods, yet you claim to be a man of faith. Defend yourself!

We’re both Catholic men, and we’re proud of our faith. I hope it shows through the writing. But we were raised to believe that Catholics shouldn’t be prudish and standoffish; that reflects a sort of Manichean temperament that the Church has always fought against.

Catholicism is earthy, without being worldly; and our sacramental view of the universe should make us more engaged and conversant with the world – and that includes the art world. Fr. Barron has been a great exemplar of this, in reviewing films by the Coen Brothers and Scorsese.

It doesn’t mean you have to endorse every idea you come across; just that you see things analogically, and put your ideas on the table in a more compelling, relatable way. If you can’t relate to everyday people and speak their language, how are you going to have a conversation? If you can’t have a conversation, how are you going to explain what the faith means? I think a real danger - online as much as offline - becomes insularity. The culture will just go on spinning around your comfort zone, your circuit of like minds, and you can't really reach it because you’ve talked about nothing it appreciates, relates to, or even understands. It tuned you out, a priori.

Pope Francis has really underscored that in his first weeks, I think. He's reminding us of the importance of breaking out, going where the people are, and making contact. Your presence alone can speak volumes.

The mission stated on the site references a secret novelist and the existential pursuit of truth. Could you explain the mission of the site and why you feel it is important?

Our mission is really just to talk about art and entertainment in a way that asks essential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Why is life worth living? Does God exist? Who is He? Walker Percy emphasized the notion of “the search” in his work – that’s exactly what we’d like to emphasize. He’s a sort of patron saint for us.

Artists that we talk about regularly – Josh Garrels, Terrence Malick, Ron Hansen – draw these questions out, so we want to promote their work. But the real task is digging into the Kendrick Lamars and Breaking Bads, and finding jewels that people might take away from them.

So “By Way of Beauty” is kind of a misnomer, in retrospect. Benedict XVI’s writing on "via pulchritudinis" was a big motivation. But I think a lot of people come expecting the “finer things club” – Rembrandt, Vivaldi, Shakespeare. But it’s obviously not like that;we’re digging into both the highbrow and lowbrow stuff.

Is there a tension between a more Thomist approach to evangelization ("Here is an objective, deductive, and principled account of the truth.") and a inductive, subjective, and experiential approach more like that of hippie catechists of the 70's ("What do you think love is?")?

I think this reflects a long-standing tension: Platonic vs. Aristotlean, Augustinian vs. Thomistic, the dynamic “feeling” Church and the systematic “thinking” Church. I think the Church needs both modes to evangelize. It’s like John Paul II’s image of faith and reason: two wings of a dove that ascend to the contemplation of truth. Head and heart, intellect and passion, are the same way; they should go hand in hand.

Pope John Paul II seemed to have a balanced approach to evangelization ("Let me guide you to the truth and point it out by way of the subjective, inductive and experiential...") and By Way of Beauty seems similar in this regard. Do you think of your site as an evangelizing ministry or is that just a natural byproduct of what the site's main mission is?

I hope we can strike that balance, but I don’t think of By Way of Beauty at all in those terms. We don’t break the Bible or Catechism out, which has to be part of that. It’s important, of course, and there are some great people using the new media to do that: Brandon Vogt, Bad Catholic, and Catholic Memes are all doing great work. We’re coming from a Catholic perspective too, but our content is more neutral territory. If there is an evangelizing aspect, it’s our hope that non-believers become aware of these points of contact with Catholic thought, and are curious to look into things on their own they might not have otherwise.

The Catechism says the human person, "with his openness to truth and beauty", is a way we can come to know God. Truth and goodness seem to be lost on our culture. In an increasingly technological culture is it possible we are losing our openness to beauty as well? What do we do about it?

Von Balthasar had a great line, that if beauty is separated from her two sisters, she’ll take them with her in a mysterious act of vengeance. That's powerful. When we compartmentalize these things, we lose all of them. Art without truth and goodness stops being beautiful; and truth and goodness without beauty stops being compelling. That connection has been lost, and the first thing we should do is try to build it up again.

I think one of the best things we can do is do a better job of supporting artists and the arts in our private and professional lives, in our families and our communities. Film is an especially powerful and universal medium – look at what Peter Jackson did with Tolkien.

Peter Kreeft asked once: where’s our Dante? That’s a great question. Personally I hope that our Dante is a filmmaker, because the potential for film to impress ideas on us is tremendous.

How can people practically get in on this beauty/God action in their everyday lives? Whether it is for evangelization or for self-sanctification?

God is the supreme artist. There's a great line in a hip-hop song: God is a painter and the sky is his canvas, God is a poet and our lives are his stanzas. I love that. The world is charged with His presence and glory – we just need to open our eyes and receive it.

What is the first Walker Percy book I should read?

If you’re into fiction, go with The Moviegoer; if you’re more of a non-fiction reader, Lost in the Cosmos. But they’re all fantastic.

You can find Matt and his brother Wes talking to you about art and entertainment over a few drinks at I highly recommend keeping up with their site and sending some of their articles to your friends.

Check out some of these superb articles from By Way of Beauty: Fourteen Philosophical Films (That the Lists Missed) To Love Another Person - The Story of "Les Miserables" Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City - The Thirst of Kendrick Lamar Pascal in "The Rum Diary" Un-friending Silence A Good Man is Hard to Find

Why Hurricane Sandy Made Us Happy

“Hurricanes, which are very bad things, somehow neutralize the other bad thing which has no name.”

— Walker Percy, Lancelot

Marc Barnes has the rare gift of explaining deep seated feelings you have always experienced but never put to words or even thought much about.

Drawing from Walker Percy, Marc shows us why we get (at least initially) a little excited about natural disasters and impending destruction.

The hurricane relieves us. The things we seek to fend off despair with, the things we secretly doubt have any ability to bring us happiness, all of these are decimated in the face of the Frankenstorm. What does your money matter, when there is a whirlpool of destruction bearing down on rich and poor alike? What does your college education matter — certainly supposed to bring you happiness — when the ice giants are uprooting trees? What does your neighborhood and your good school system matter, your wardrobe, your iPhone, your car, your savings, your humanistic outlook, your eternal politeness? Hurricane, dammit!

Delight in the danger of the full article here.