Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, proclaiming Christ crucified, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books of primary importance) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Sixteen Plays;  by William Shakespeare
  • Poems; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin; Christopher Ricks
  • The Lyrics 1961-2012; by Bob Dylan
  • Kristin Lavransdatter; Sigrid Undset
  • The Chronicles of Narnia; C.S. Lewis
  • Camille Saint-Saëns and His World
  • In Defense of Purity; D. Hildebrand
  • Day the Revolution Began; NT Wright
  • Veritatis Splendor; Saint John Paul II
  • Ezekiel commentary; Robert Jenson
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

The foundation of everything is Christ Jesus, and him crucified. However, beyond the personal aspects of that, what are the implications for our social relationships?

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, the Bride of Christ, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose chief steward is the bishop of Rome. Besides addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

Aside from religion, the most important public matter is

The Demographic Imperative: For any tribe to survive, some of its women must have at least three children.

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On Romans

I’m participating in Bible Study Fellowship’s session on Romans. Their ‘study’ is mostly a presentation of standard reformed protestant understandings and I find to useful to collect a few quotes, in response, from N.T. Wright’s ‘The Day the Revolution Begin”

from beginning of chap 12 of Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began (the first of the 2 chapters on Romans in that book).

The first four chapters of Romans have for many years been read as though they were a statement of our old friend the ‘works contract’.  Humans were supposed to behave themselves, they didn’t. God had to punish them, but Jesus stood in the way, so God forgave them after all (provided they believed in Jesus). Rather than going to hell, they can no go to heaven instead. That, with small variations, is how Romans 1-4 has been read.  It is frequently referred to as the “Romans road.”  When people in churches preach and teach the kind of view that I have been warning against throughout this book, it is to Romans that they go to “prove” what they are saying.
And I am convinced that this is mistaken.  That is why we need, in this chapter and the following one, to look at Romans in much more detail.  At this point  we cannot avoid getting our hands dirty with some detailed reading of the text.  I have suggested in the previous chapters that the four gospels are far more important than has usually been supposed for understanding the early Christian view of what Jesus’s death achieved. But sooner or later we must come back to Romans.  Debates about the meaning of Jesus’s death in the New Testament tend to stand or fall right here.
The general structure of Wright’s two chapters is:
Chap 12
    a) general intro/outline
    b) chap 5-8 in detail
Chap 13
   a) intro on Passover and Atonement
   b) usual reading of Romans 3 and its problems
   c) redemption re-imagined
Wright focuses on Rm 1-8 .. not much detail on rest of Romans, for complex reasons (not all of which are due to the focus on “Debates about the meaning of Jesus’s death in the New Testament tend to stand or fall right here.”  More on Romans 9 and following would, I think, require Wright to write more about the nature of ‘The Church” than he thinks appropriate at the present time.)
anyway  at the end of the general intro in Wrights chap 12, there is this brief overall outline of Romans as a whole:
That true worship, contrasting with the failure seen in 1:18-26, is what Paul sees Abraham offering in 4:18-22. The result, for those who share Abraham’s faith, is expressed in cultic terms: “we have been allowed to approach, by faith, into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate the hope of the glory of god” (5:2) — the “hope of God’s glory” being, in the Jewish world of the time, the hope for the divine Glory to return at last to the Temple. That is part of the meaning of Romans 8, where the indwelling Spirit means that the Messiah’s people not only share his “rule” over the new creation (8:18-25), picking up from 5:17), but also share his priestly intersession for the world (8:26-27, looking forward to 8:34). This then sets Paul up for the prayer theme, which holds together chapters 9-11, starting with lament (9:1-5), continuing with intercession (10:1) and ending in praise (11:33-36). This framework means that Paul is exemplifying and embodying the idea of a renewed priesthood standing between God and his people.  It should be no surprise that chapter 12 begins with an equally “priestly” theme:
“so my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s.” (12:1)
Here again the section that is introduced with this “cultic” appeal concludes with a similar call to worship: the point of the whole gospel is to fulfill the promises to the patriarchs and to bring the nations to praise God for his mercy (15:8-9).  Nor should we then be surprised (tho some readers have been) when Paul moves into the concluding section of the letter by describing how he has been called to work “in the priestly service of God’s good news, so that the offering of the nations may be acceptable, sanctified in the holy spirit” (15:16). All of this could be considerably expanded. This summary ma be enough to alert us to the fact that, in Paul’s presentation of salvation, the GOAL is for humans to share the “royal” and “priestly” ministry of the Messiah himself.
If that is the goal, how is that goal attained?  This is the particular puzzle that Romans presents to our present topic.  Granted all this framework, what does Paul say about the way in which the death of Jesus has dealt with this problem (idolatry and sin) about brought about this result?
from chap 13 of Wrights book, on the problems with the ‘Romans road’ reading of Romans 3

this understanding of Rm 3:21-26 leaves vv 27-31 stranded. It appears to change the subject from “how you acquire this ‘righteousness’ ” to “how Jews and Gentiles come together into a single faith family.”  That, indeed is what many writers and preachers have imagined.
So too chapter 4 becomes seriously undervalued.  Many who expound Romans regard Abraham in this chapter merely as an “example” of “someone in scripture who was justified by faith.”  Sometimes the chapter is simply labeled as a “proof from scripture” of the “doctrine” that Paul has supposedly been expounding in chapter 3. But this misses the whole point.
This reading also ignores the plain meaning of 2:17-20.  It flattens out Paul’s careful statement of the vocation of “the Jew” (to be the light of the world) into simply another aspect of the general truth that “all have sinned” This in turn leaves 3:1-9 high and dry, or at least very difficult.  This short passage consists of a rapid fire series of questions and answers that make excellent sense if we read 2:17-29 in the way I am suggesting, but very little sense any other way. Again many commentators and preachers have noticed this; some very careful and “conservative” expositors declare that the passage is too complex and puzzling to be much help. This in turn results in a failure to see what Paul is getting at in 3:21-26.
Finally, the “problem” Paul is addressing is assumed to be simply human wrongdoing (“sin”).  However, in Romans 1:18-32 and in the summary of that passage in 3:23 we find a deeper element as well. “Sin” is rooted in idolatry, the swapping of the divine Glory for images.  Here Paul is exactly on the map of Second Temple Jewish writings. But many today, eager to talk about “sin,” have forgotten that it is the second-order problem. The root cause of the trouble is worship of idols.
These exegetical problems point to the underlying theological difficulties with the usual reading.  This usual reading is all about how we get “right with God” in order to “go to heaven”; but Paul never mentions “going to heaven,” here or elsewhere in Romans, and the idea of being “right with God,” though related to Paul’s theme, is usually taken out of the specific context he intends.  Ironically, the usual reading takes “going to heaven” (or some near equivalent) for granted and then complains if, instead, someone tries to reintroduce into these chapters the themes that Paul demonstrably IS expounding.  It all become so complicated, people grumble — when what they really mean is “I am so used to reading this passage one way that I find it hard to switch and consider other opinions.”
In Israel’s scriptures, to which Paul explicitly appeals in 3:21b (“the law and the prophets bore witness to it”) God’s righteousness is not simply God’s status of being morally upright. It is, more specifically, God’s faithfulness to the covenant — the covenant not only with Abraham and Israel, but through Israel to the wider world.
This idea of God being faithful the covenant clearly seems to be Paul’s meaning here in Romans 3.  Within the larger unit of chapters 1-4 as a whole, 3:21-26 is framed more particularly between the argument that starts at 2:17 and the exposition of Genesis 15 in chapter 4.
Romans 2:17-3:9 is concerned, first, with the worldwide purpose of Israel’s divine vocation (2:17-20), second, with Israel’s covenantal failure (2:21-24; 3:2-4), and third, with the problem that this poses for God’s “dikaiosyne”, his “righteousness (3:5).  How is God to be faithful to the covenant — to rescue and bless the world through the Jews — if Israel is faithless”  Romans 4 is then all about Gods covenant with Abraham, its worldwide purpose, and the way n which, through the gospel, God has now been faithful to that covenant.  These two (Israel’s vocation to rescue the world; God’s covenant promises to Abraham to give him a worldwide family) obviously go together. The divine purpose through Israel for the world is the subject of the passages both before and after 3:21-26.  There is every reason, therefore, for taking “God’s righteousness” in 3:31 in its normal biblical sense of “covenant faithfulness.”  There is every reason too to understand the display of that “righteousness” as connected with God’s somehow rescuing the world from idolatry and sin, through Israel, in order to create a single worldwide family for Abraham. The actual arguments Paul advances on either side of our passage, in other words, strongly support a reading of dikaiosyne theos and cognate ideas in 3:21=26 ad “covenant faithfulness.”  This fits with what we have just seen about the passage itself, which ends with an emphatic reference to God himself being “righteous,” rather than to “God’s righteousness” as a moral status or quality that God credits to others.
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Evangelical Fundamentals 2

Back on July 2, 2008 I wrote:

Jim Packer recently commented: It is important to know who our friends are. Anglo-Catholics generally believe in Trinity, Scripture, atonement, resurrection, judgement, prayer, etc. A ‘higher’ view of sacraments and priesthood seems secondary in the light of those primary correspondences. I can be friends with Anglo-Catholics. Modern Anglo-Catholicism has a different agenda from in the past. I can, with qualifications, be friends with Anglo-Catholics.

Yes, evangelicals generally consider soteriology and theology proper to be more fundamental than ecclesiology. So much more fundamental that, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t seem completely unfair to say that evangelicals don’t believe in the Church (except as a mere label for the set of all Christians). The “with qualifications” is, I think, a bit amusing and, I suspect, relates to how pushy the non-evangelical is about ecclesiology as summarized in, say, the fourth part of the Nicene Creed.

It’s difficult to make sense of the Anglican “Communion” nowadays.






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The goal of advertising is to persuade folks that stuff they don’t care about is, in fact, important. This extends far beyond, say, the selling of toothpaste.   Furthermore, since only some many matters can be considered important, advertising also has a secondary goal to persuade folks that stuff they do consider important is, in fact, not important.

Consider any major media source nowadays and the main thing advertised is: Politics is important; Religion is not important.

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On Baptism

As an infant, I did not choose my food. I ate the good food given and was healthy.

An infant does not choose its name, body or basic personality. Rather, to be healthy one later consciously accepts these, as given.

The effectual work of the sacraments depend on God, not on us. Thus, as the Church teaches, infant baptism is entirely appropriate but, as the Church also teaches, the later conscious acceptance of this baptism is essential for one’s spiritual health.

In the office of readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for today, there’s a reading from Saint Justin, Martyr. In his first Apology, written around 156AD, he writes:

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the layer the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.

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Seeing Unexpected Events

Unexpected events are difficult to see, even after the event. Several years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was reading Professor Pundit and thought, “Wait a minute, though he’s one of the foremost experts on Eastern Europe, the event caught him totally by surprise. So, why should I listen to him now?”

Recently I’ve observed this more closely with regard to Trump’s campaign and election. I was pleased with President Trump’s election, and with being able to sell my Predictit shares on the election and purchase a purebred standard poodle.  Whether a pundit was for or against Trump, if they didn’t see his election coming, why pay attention to them now?

Of course, the massive elephant in the room with regard to unexpected events is the resurrection of Jesus, foreseen only in the Hebrew scriptures. That changes everything.

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Six Extensive Essays

I’ll take as an introduction to all six articles (thanks to Sandro Magister for the links, and background)  by these distinguished Catholic lay persons, an admonition from Anna Silvas:

What kind of prophet do you want to show you the times? Hananiah or Jeremiah? Choose.

Douglas Farrow (about):

The Roots of the Present Crisis

Anna M. Silvas (about):

A Year After “Amoris Laetitia”. A Timely Word

Claudio Pierantoni:

La necessaria coerenza del magistero con la Tradizione. Gli esempi della storia

Thibaud Collin:

Discerner en conscience?

Jürgen Liminski:

“Co-créé avec l’Homme”. Pourquoi l’indissolubilité du mariage est une bonne chose pour la société

Jean Paul Messina:

Lecture d’”Amoris Laetitia” pour l’Afrique et les Églises d’Afrique



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