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Figuring Out the Distinctives And Agreements When Discussing the Theme of The Nuclear and Extended Families. November 1, 2011

Posted by rengawman in Theology.
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I recall through the 1990’s when the wife of President Bill Clinton called Hilary composed a book titled It Takes A Village. Anything Ms. Clinton did in nothing flat became contentious. However in this case the discussion centered on the role of the community and family in raising kids. The religious fundamentalists believed that Clinton needed to accentuate the role of the family in rearing children, in particular since her husband’s administration didn’t seem concerned with family morals. The secular liberals supported Clinton and recognized that a community mattered also.

This discussion brings up a necessary question on the nature of the family. Does the nuclear family or the extended family have more value? It’s fascinating that such a debate would occur about something so seemingly blameless. however the way in which we care for our children is an explosive theme whether it occurs in Congress or among local moms. Most individuals choose to act in the manner they want, not according to the advice of other individuals.

It is useful to first look at some definitions. The nuclear family is the mom, father, and children. Some gurus don’t include adopted or step-children in this definition. The extended family consists of the remaining family members. This can be anyone from favorite uncle Barrett to eighth cousin Terrance who’s always getting sent to lockup. The extended family are those close or distant people who are related through blood or marriage.

Now, we can examine the duty of the family in civilizations through history. In nearly every case, the extended family was the norm. Most couples with a kid couldn’t survive in the turbulent conditions of ancient life. Even as society progressed, poor people preferred to associate with their extended families for material advantage. Pooling resources and sharing land and houses was indispensable to become successful in the olden world. The Bible tells us numerous examples of the preeminence of the extended family.

In the 1940s and 1950s standards of living increased enough in the Western world that families were able to separate from their family. So, mother and father could care for little Danny without having grandma in the household. In fact, as the extended family declined, the construction of nursing homes rose. It is not a coincidence that this happened when it did.

In my opinion, both the extended and nuclear families are essential. A strong nuclear family is needed to care for healthy, well-adjusted kids while extended families give strong anchors with the past and good role models. Plus, with the economic downturn that started in 2008, countless Americans would benefit from the extended family template.

With large houses underwater and falling incomes, families could share space and merge their incomes to both live better lives. A lot of families are already doing this, but many more could raise the standard of living by sharing houses and combining incomes. The only issue is if family members could in reality get along. So, it seems that both sides during the 1990s were right.

I expect you liked this thesis on relatives. maybe you are able to glean some vital insights into your own relatives.

The author frequently writes and speaks on themes related to family. His articles on the decline of the nuclear families and the rise of the extended families are quite interesting.


The Flabbergasted Philosopher is moving! January 8, 2008

Posted by rengawman in Blogroll, Events, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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I have enjoyed wordpress so much folks that I have installed it into my own domain (thanks to the help of “the Shadow,” a guy who works for wordpress).  So for now I will be moving my blog over to www.totalpossibility.com/blog.  The new posts will be there, but I will let the old posts remain here until wordpress.com gets tired of me.   (I will find some way to move them over.)

18,500 Visitors!

As of today, January 8th, 2007, I have had over 18,500 visits to my blog.  Not too shabby for a blog that is less than 6 months old! (totalpossibility.com isn’t far behind that!)

This blog has brought world peace! (OK that is a lie)

So far this blog has reunited me with old elementary school classmates, introduced me to new and exciting people, solved world hunger, and eliminated the threat of nuclear war.  Who knew a blog could do all that?!

 I am also changing the name of the blog to simply “Total Possibility,” to stay with my website’s theme. (Don’t worry, I will eternally be Flabbergasted… I hear there are pills for that…)  There will be more exciting changes to www.totalpossibility.com as well. (As you may have seen if you are a regular visitor there.)

 I will update the main website when I update the blog, so there will be regular updates to both totalpossibility the website as well as archives in the blog, so you can go to either.


Some other exciting stuff coming is that I am going to expand my blog out to some other, hand picked contributors so that there can be more of a variety to the blog on some various topics.

 In addition to that, I am planning to start a podcast, which is one of the reasons that I am moving the blog. (wordpress.com doesn’t as easily support podcasting vs. if I have it installed myself.  That podcast will not only be me yakkin’ but other contributors as well.

So go and visit www.totalpossibility.com, and help me out by clicking on some of the google ads that I have there. (I don’t pick that content by the way… google puts up there what it dang well feels like, so if there is something weird, blame google) (I try and find some way to blame google for all my problems)  It’ll only take a second of your time!

 Tell all your friends and neighbors, cats, and dogs, heck, tell that creepy guy you saw at the movie theater last week!  There was a guy who used to come into the movie theater that I worked at in High School who looked like Elvis.  Mean guy actually.  Cool hair though.

 Joshua Wagner S.T.B., M.A.
Founder, CEO, President, Mail Clerk, and Dog Trainer to:
 Total Possibility LLC
(OK there aren’t any dogs) (There are a couple of stuffed monkeys).


Stuck in a Car Wash! (Dealing with Inner Confusion) January 1, 2008

Posted by rengawman in cars, Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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Oh this is a great story…

Last year, during a cold snap in February, the roads were covered with salt, which meant my car, Lucy, was also covered in salt.  So on my way home from a friend’s house late one night I was concerned for Lucy and the many layers of salt she had on her, and before acrewing a new layer, I figured I would give her a quick run through the car wash.

Now I understand the absurdity of the idea of washing my car in below freezing temperatures, with salt coating the roads, and having to avoid the army of salt trucks I saw on the way home, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea. So I went to one of those “touchless” car wash, put my credit card in, the door opened and I pulled in, business as usual. The car wash ended and I am sure Lucy looked nice and clean. When it came time to leave, the garage door in front of me wouldn’t open, and the one I came through was closed… so basically, I was trapped. I got out and pushed the emergency release button, and the door was still shut.   Frozen solid!

I was trapped…
I was trapped… there was no door to the outside for humans either, and since I have not experienced the resurrection, and I am not GOB or David Copperfield (the fictional character nor the magician) I could not walk through the walls, and I felt a certain sense of dread come over me… Plus, inside the touchless carwash there is always water shooting from all directions, so to get out of my car was like walking through an obstacle course of water. At one point I was standing there thinking about what to do for a minute, when I realized that one of the streams of water was hitting the upper part of my right leg which I didn’t feel for about 30 seconds, as the water was also warm… I don’t have to tell you what that looked like… or felt like, as the water was very warm. Plus there was steam everywhere which fogged up my glasses. I was in a bad position. I did begin to laugh at this point, and realized how funny the situation was. THEN I moved out of the way of the stream of water. HA!!!There was also no phone number posted to call, plus it was 10:30 at night. Anyway, I walked over to the other adjoining carwash chamber (great descriptive word there) (reminds me of the carbon freezing chamber from Star Wars), and I hit the release button for the garage door and that one opened. Instantly the steam increased 3 fold as it contacted the arctic air outside, and I must have looked like an alien emerging from the belly of the space ship.

Too bad nobody was there to see it. So it’s cold wet and steamy, and my pant leg was drenched but I had my sweet freedom. Except Lucy herself was still trapped. I called a number that I finally found and left a message for “Greg.” Greg never got back to me, so I went back into the car wash, backed Lucy up to the back door, went around and bought another car wash, which opened up the back door and I backed her out into the cold, again in the midst of all is steam, Lucy emerged. Great story huh?

There were moments while I was trapped in that steamy mixture of cold air and hot water that I just didn’t know what I was going to do.  I was terrified at moments that I was going to have to spend the night in the middle of the car wash.  Did I call 911?  If I did, was it enough of an emergency and would I get in trouble?  Worse yet, would the cops get there and just laugh at me?  Talk about inner confusion!  I was at my wits end!  There were seemingly a thousand options that I could have pursued in securing my freedom, and none of them seemed adequate.  Plus, once one door opened (literally!) all the other ones in front of me were still closed.

The cops would have laughed at me…

I think this is a great analogy to how a lot of people view life.  They are in situations which baffle them- really it isn’t the situation that baffles them, rather it is their own interior confusion that makes life-situations baffling to most people.

All of us deal to some extent with inner confusion.  A lot of us like to avoid it because it makes us feel uncomfortable in our own skin.  We are sort of like that car wash in some ways- like the water that was squirting in all directions, clouding up the cold air with steam, so we are often a flurry of emotions, thoughts, fears, rationalizations, and any number of things that “fog up” our interior “lenses,” and prevent us from understanding who we really are, and what we need to do.

Inner confusion

Dealing with this confusion is a basic human need.  All of us get stuck in the car wash from time to time.  Maybe we can relate to my little foible in the car wash last year- we know we are stuck in the steam and the sprays of water, closed behind doors that won’t open due to our choices or circumstances, and we are too embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.  I was afraid to call the police to get help because I figured they would laugh at me.  Maybe some of us are ashamed about our own inner confusion and rather than seek help and be ridiculed or hurt, we prefer to spend the night in the chaos of our own “inner carwash.”

Eventually, I took the time that night to think my way out of the carwash, and if we take the time, calm down, and really begin to look at our inner confusion, both the causes and the effects, we may just figure out a way to free ourselves from the bondage of our own inner confusion.  That takes work- it also invariably requires another person, or people to help us.

The first requirement is a relationship with a Higher Power.  God made us, he can help us to figure out what is going on inside of us.  He can calm us and give us a new perspective on our own inner confusion.  Really we are wonderfully designed, and what seems like chaos to us is actually working properly.  Going back to our carwash, the streams of water, the steam, and all the other elements of the confusion car wash told me that everything was working properly!  It just seemed confusing to me!  Once I figured out the glitch, I was free in a matter of minutes.  Often what seems confusion to us is confusing because of a matter of perspective.  God has the ultimate perspective on how we are supposed to work.  Unlike “Greg” at the car wash, when we call on him he will come and help us fix the problem.  We have to call Him first though.

Second, we need a community of support.  Maybe that is family, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe it is friends or a support group.  The first step to managing the seemingly unmanageable inner confusion we all face is admitting that we might have a problem, or a glitch in the mechanism.  Once we do that we can go to people that can help us.

As I have mentioned in other blogs, you can’t see your own face without a mirror.  We need someone outside of ourselves to be vulnerable to- both human and divine, that can help us sort out our inner confusion.  This is an ongoing process if we want to be happy and free.

Of course, there are inappropriate ways to deal with inner confusion as well- avoidance behaviors that try and suppress the inner confusion we all face- Drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, or any number of things.  These things not only are ineffective against suppressing our inner confusion, they make it worse.

In the end of the day, we simply need to make sure that we are rigorously honest with ourselves, our friends who we trust, and with God.  We need to be humble enough to make that call when we need to when we are stuck in some situation, even when fear is telling us not to, or we are afraid of being hurt or made fun of.  Only then can we begin to sort out that inner confusion which at one point or another, plagues us all.

Peeking Duck- Self Worth December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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As I mentioned in previous posts, actually, about 3 days ago, I mentioned my fondness for Chinese food.  Usually when I go into Chinese restaurants, the entrees that I order always have some similar elements: They are chickeny, the contain some kind of nut, and they are spicy.  Every so often though, I like to order duck, as it is a nice change of pace from my nut-chicken-spicy combo that I usually get.

The only reason I wrote that above paragraph was so that the title of this post might at least have some reference to Peking Duck, often served in Asian restaurants.  I did that so that the pun I used in the title might also have a reference.  Other than that, the above paragraph has absolutely no purpose in this blog.  Thank you for reading.

Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, I was visiting my spiritual director from Toledo.  A great Jesuit who I got to know in Rome 7 years ago when he was the director of spiritual formation at the North American College.  When I arrived in Rome, tired, smelly from the flight, and covered in ketchup (that is another story) they shoved us into the refectory for our first Italian meal.  My now spiritual director was at my table, and was the first people I ate with in that city.  I remember him making bruschetta (pronounced Bru-sk-ett-a) out of the bread on the table when he toasted it an poured cheese and olive oil on it.  He was a good salad maker as I recall as well.  Beyond that, I really never knew him until I got a friend’s ordination a few year ago in Michigan, and he offered to be my Spiritual Director.  He has stuck with me in these last years in thick and thin- he has been a real blessing to me, and I am sure others who have struggled through the years.

I was covered in Ketchup the day I arrived in Rome… mmm … ketchup

One of the things we talked about this week was, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, getting my ducks in a row.  Those crazy ducks.

The first of the five ducks, or psychological needs that we have to wrangle up, is that of self worth.  Man have I struggled with that.  Where do we get our self worth?  How do we find it?  What are the sorts of things that prevent us from realizing our self worth?

Primarily, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which has two implications by nature.  One is that we have free will, or we should have it, and second is that we are capable of entering into relationship with other people. (See my post on the Trinity and its interior relationship if you need material to put you to sleep).  Free will and the ability to enter into relationship culminates in love.  Love, as my director tells me, is willing the good of another.  I always say that love is a choice, not a feeling, so even if it hurts, we have to do what is the greatest good for ourselves, our communities, and our neighbors.

That being made in the image and likeness of God is what primarily gives us our self worth.  No other creature, not dogs or angels, can claim to be made in God’s image and likeness.  They cannot express free will, or enter into relationships in love the way that we can.

The problem is that we have a hard time perceiving that we are made in that image and likeness.  The primary cause of that: Sin.  Now, I am not going to go into depth here about sin, but I already have in this post here.

Sin primarily detracts from the beauty and worth of every person, not because it destroys the fact that we are in the image and likeness of God, but because it tarnishes it like a mirror can get tarnished, making it difficult to see our reflection of God’s divine nature.  When we sin, in any of the stages, our instant reaction is like the of Adam and Eve’s- we see that we are naked, and we are ashamed of ourselves, heck, we even become ashamed of the fact that we are not living up to the image and likeness of God in which we were created.  That leads us to do what they did- they cover themselves- they cover their nature.

So it is sin that detracts from us seeing our self worth- that dignity that we have been made in God’s image and likeness- each and every person.  From the greatest saint, to the greatest murderer, nothing can take that image and likeness to God away from us, but sin can make it harder for us to see.

So we are constantly having to rediscover our self worth- we really do need to have this duck in a row if we are going to get the others in line.  We want to know we are worth while, and we will, without a doubt, seek some kind of validation of that self worth, or we will try to cover it like Adam and Eve, and we will be ashamed of something that is so beuatifually created by God.

Some of the ways that we try and find validation is through relationships.  That is ok if the relationship is healthy.  Often though we seek people that we relate to, or are similar to, in order that we might validate ourselves in them.  Sometimes that means multiple marriages, sexual partners, remaining in abusive situations, or any number of things.  There are people that constantly seek the validation that only God can give to them.

There are ways of covering it up too.  People who are ashamed of themselves cannot face or accept that they are worthwhile and try to cover their nature with booze, or drugs, or shapping, eating, jobs, uniforms, or any number of potential addicitions that are out there.  We can even be addicted to people or ideologies!

In the end if we truly want to find our self worth, we have to “peek” (ahh there is my title reference) into ourselves- take the good with the bad, and see that underneith it all, we still have that beauty and that dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, despite the fact that we are a bit tarnished at times by our choices to turn away from the inherent dignity that is in each person.

The other way to find self worth requires a bit of spirituality I think.  We need to see ourselves as God sees us.  He doesn’t require us to be handsome or smart or funny or have a great job or a great car or any number of things that give us validation in our culture.  Rather, he loves just because we exist.  Unconditionally.  Whether we love Him back or not.  That is the ultimate validation of our self worth.

Once we begin to realize that we have self worth, it directs us toward putting our second duck in a row, which I will talk about tomorrow- the need to love and to be loved.

For my next trick… December 19, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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I am really happy to announce the publication of my first book, The Flabbergasted Philosopher Gets Motivated, which is for sale at this link.  This is sort of a “Best of Josh Wagner” book, sort of like a Beetles Anthology, but without the music… or the fan base… or Yoko Ono.  Don’t think she hasn’t tried to horn her way into my creativity with her “Plums floating in Perfume in a Man’s Hat.”  She is crafty alright.  I hope whoever buys a copy enjoys it. 

It would make a great gift…  now only if there was some kind of gift giving holiday where someone might enjoy this as a gift.  Oh well…

The Resplendent Garment

Ignatian retreat

The first book will be called “The Resplendent Garment.”  This last summer I was able to go on a 30 day silent retreat in Morristown New Jersey, where I did the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I tell you what… 30 days sitting and listening to God will certainly give you a lot of insight into His great love for us, how and why he created us and the universe, as well as knowledge of the great world of groundhogs.  Yep… groundhogs. His name was Harvey.  Harvey the Groundhog.  I guess you will have to wait for the book to know exactly what I mean.  All I can say is what God said to me: “Be the Groundhog.”

 There was so many good and rich spiritual experiences in those 30 days that I knew one of the things I was supposed to do with my time was to write a book about those experiences.  The theme of the resplendent garment of God’s divine love kept coming up through the retreat, and so I intend to share that with people through writing a book about it.  I had started to write it shortly after the retreat, but I needed a few months to process all of the wonderful graces that God had given to me during that time.  I plan to start writing that shortly, within the next week.

 Title to be announced

The second book will be a collaboration between me and a friend and his miraculous journey through a life threatening illness.  My friend should have probably died, but somehow managed, with the love of God, his friends and family to become miraculously healed, changing not only his life, but the life of those around him. 

What Makes your Heart Burn?

Finally, I would like to do a compilation book where I interview people, get their stories about life and what motivates them in terms of all aspects of life- spiritually, intellectually, professionally, physically, and socially.  It will be a collection of vignettes similar to what my first book looks like, but integrating other people’s stories, in addition to some of my own.

This is where I need your help!  If you think that you have a story worth telling, or have had an event that changed your life or the lives of others, that you think would help other people, let me know through an email! (joshua.john.wagner@gmail.com)

Due to my short attention span (maybe I have ADHD, who knows) I will be working on all three simultaneously, a little bit every day.  I have a day by day approach to things, and I have a “vitamin” mentality.  That is, like vitamins, you take one pill a day, not a hand-full once a week.  You can really achieve any goal like this.  I read once that Jerry Seinfeld sits down and writes one joke a day- one joke!  Imagine the virtually endless amount of material that he has acquired over the years doing that.  I figure if I write 2 or 3 pages a day, I will have a book in draft form in a month or so.  But like all things, sometimes it is just tough to get started.

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St. Nicholas December 6, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, Theology.
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Hi everybody! (Hi Dr. Nick!)

Man I love Dr. Nick Riviera from the Simpsons.  This post has nothing to do with him.  Well… almost nothing… no wait… nothing.  Wait!  HIS NAME IS NICHOLAS TOO!!!

It does however have something to do with that lovable jolly fellow that comes around our houses every year at this time with presents.  No, I am not talking about Uncle Melvin, although he is jolly, and he does come around this time of year with presents, but I am talking about Santa Claus!  Yeah!

This isn’t Uncle Melvin, but it is Barry White and I have been looking for any excuse to put him in my blog.

Now I have a vested interest in Santa… he is a fellow near and dear to my heart in many ways.  Mostly because I have dawned the red and white myself so many times in my life since I was in pre-school, that I feel I have walked a mile in his boots, which oddly enough, smell like reindeer poo.

Lil' Child Santa Costume

It all began when I was in preschool.  Thank goodness that the pictures that exist of this event do not exist in digital form, or I am sure that they would be posted all over the internet right now.  I know it would be a highly searched commodity on google if it did exist.  Luckily, there remains one Polaroid, in my possession, of the day in question.  I assure you, were its cuteness be unleashed upon the world, all the cute polar bear babies in Germany couldn’t stand a chance.

This guy is a Knut… Knut the Polar Bear that is…  That is darn cute there…

I was part of one of those “Hey-let’s-dress-our-kids-up-like-reindeer-elf-angel-Santa” pageants that a lot of preschools and elementary schools put on, and probably constitutes some kind of cruelty to children in some way.  We sang too.  I played Santa, and I believe that we even dressed some kids as reindeer and pull me in on a sleigh.  I think I was born for the part.  I think the “ham gene” (discovered by Danish scientists in the late 1980’s) (mmm… Danish) saw its first light on that fateful and cold Christmas evening at Gardendale Church of God in Lima, Ohio.  (mmm… ham gene).

I believe there were rave reviews, simply because only cuteness was a factor, and there is nothing cuter than a 4 year old dressed up to look like a fat old man with a beard.  Nothing.  Especially when it was me.  Like McCauly Culkin, I lost some of that cuteness factor as I grew up.  All child actors do.

Anyway, I had the bug, which would not be revisited until I went to Rome for school.  There, every Christmas, at the Gregorian University, I would again put on my Santa Suit (OK it wasn’t the same Santa Suit) (That would be both silly and wrong) and I threw candy at the eagerly awaiting students with visions of really bad hard candy dancing in their heads.  The Gregorian had two levels in the inside courtyard, and I was able to hurl the candy all the way up to the second level to the waiting arms of those hungry Christmassy students.  Only 4 were injured in the years that I played Santa.  But really, who needs TWO eyes?!?  Overrated…

Often, I would just walk around town with a Santa hat on, to the ringing sounds of “Bobo Natale,” their word for Santa Claus.  I didn’t mind.  He needed the good PR.

Santa Claus is based upon a Catholic saint named St. Nicholas, who was from Myra, which is in modern day Turkey.  His feast day is today, December 6th.  Back in school we would put our shoes outside of our doors, and by morning they would be filled with candy left by St. Nicholas himself.  There is nothing more delicious than hard candies which have been sitting in shoes all night.  Especially my shoes.  Sometimes they smell like hot buttered pop corn.  (Too much?)

This is where we get the tradition of hanging stockings by the Christmas tree for him to fill up.

St. Nicholas was a 4th or 5th century Bishop in Turkey.  As always there was all sorts of poverty and hardships for most people, and as the story goes, there was a guy who was up to his ears in debt, and whose life was threatened.  He had no other choice (well I guess maybe he had other choices but this was the one he landed on) but to sell his three daughters into prostitution to pay his debts.  The night before they were to be sold, St. Nicholas caught wind of this diabolical chapter 11, and snuck into the residence of Johnny McNoMoney, and put gold into the stockings (or possibly shoes) of the three young daughters of this fellow, thus saving them from the prostitution that they faced.  Hence, the tradition of the stockings and shoes and the whole fat guy in a red suit leaving stuff in your house and eating your cookies thing.

The other side was that as a Bishop, and a saintly one at that, St. Nick probably heard a confession or two during Advent, so all the kids (and adults) would go to see and him and tell him whether they had been naughty (or in some cases nice).  That is where the tradition of going to Santa and telling him your life’s story at the mall came from.  (The mall part was added later). (When malls were built). (Sometimes even when it isn’t Christmas time, I go to the mall, find a guy with a white beard, and tell him stuff about me.) (It is funny how easily guys with white beards get freaked out).

I will say one year when I put my shoes out, I got a lump of coal (OK carbone actually which is explained in yesterday’s blog.)  I still ate it.  Tasted like burned sugar and hot buttery popcorn. (Too much?!)

If you would like to destroy my sweater… pull this thread as I walk away. November 26, 2007

Posted by rengawman in philosophy, Theology.
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Weezer.  It isn’t what people call me when I try to walk up a hill too fast.  It is the name of a band who sang the Sweater Song with the lyrics that appear in the title of this post.  It evokes a great image of that one thread that holds the whole sweater together.

I know I have pulled that thread at times- that stray thread that seems just to be hanging there dangling, doing nothing special.  Who knew it was a load bearing thread!  When we pull it the whole tapestry seems to come apart, literally, at the seams.

It doesn’t just work for clothing and tapestries, but it even happens in buildings where there is a network of forces working together to keep a building upright.  If those interconnecting forces begin to crumble, or lose their unity, the whole building will begin to crumble.  

There is then a unity working in the midst of all parts of things, be it a sweater, or a building, or even us as human beings.  As you may recall from a previous post, unity is a transcendental quality of being- that is if you destroy the unity of a thing, you destroy the thing itself.  (As you may recall, half a car isn’t very good as a car.)

So how does that work into how reality operates?  It seems on the macro level of observation, things work rather independently of each other.  This tree grows over here, or that tree over there.  Perhaps Jupiter seems to be a distant and separate planet from our own.  Individuals have their own identities and one culture differs from the next.  It seems that in reality there is not really any unity to speak of between one thing and the next, except maybe for the fact that each object enjoys being and existence.

That is the catch I think in how all things are really interconnected.  From a philosophical point of view, what this tree and that tree share is that they both exist- so existence, or being, is the “common thread” that unites all things together.  Being is…  whether it is being as a tree or a rock or Jupiter or myself.

So what does this mean?  If we are constantly on the search for what “being” is, can we really come to any conclusions about what being is?

Materially speaking, everything comes down to the same basic elements.  Everything that “is” in reality comes down to atoms and quarks and neutrons etc.  But on a macro level things are highly complex and organized- time and space and material work in a consistent way- it simply isn’t a conglomeration of atoms that are thrown together randomly- there is an intelligence behind how reality works, even if it is hard to see or understand.  I believe that this has been humanity’s project for its entire existence- the search for understanding of how things… more specifically, how reality actually works.


How does it all work together?  How does being at its fundamental levels work on the reality that we perceive?  Beyond just an acceptance of “being qua being” there must be some common thread that is holding together the whole “sweater” of reality.

In physics there has been for the last few decades something called the “unified field theory.”  Big minds like Einstein spent decades trying to prove that this unified field exists.  I am not physisist of course, but the basic definition of this theory is that time and space and gravity, and really all forces of nature from the atomic level to the macro level of the entire universe, are all linked by a common force of nature or field.  Everything, in other words, comes down to the thread that is holding together everything.


This theory hasn’t been proven yet, as when we percieve reality we tend to change it, but it seams pretty plausible to me as a philosopher and a theologian.  What if that unified field is God Himself?  It seems believable that there is a common element holding the whole thing together, and we know that reality is intelligible- that is has an intelligence behind it- so why not posit, at least from a philosophical point of view, that this unified field is the divine Himself?  

The fact that humanity has intelligence shows that there is intelligence in the universe.  You can’t give what you don’t have- so intelligence can’t just form at random- intelligence comes from intelligence.  Otherwise there is simply just a random conglomeration of atoms that just happend to become intelligent when expressed they collectively form a human being.

Maybe a study of this theory and of physics will lead us to what the ancient philosophers like Aristotle called “natural theology.”  That is specifically, that nature tends to lead us to knowledge of the divine being that is truly behind everything.

What this means as well is that there are really infinite possibilities-even in this reality- that the intellect that is behind the universe could organize matter, time, and space, in any one of infinite combinations- the possibilities are truly endless, as are the implications from such thought.

SIN November 19, 2007

Posted by rengawman in life, philosophy, Theology.
Tags: , , ,

Ohhh… people get creeped out by this topic don’t they?  Nobody wants to be known as a sinner- yet I have yet to meet one perfect person in this world, especially the guy that stares back at me in the mirror.  Admittedly, I am ALMOST perfect, but I still have a week or two before I reach perfection.

Sin is not a word that is commonly used in our culture.  It is imperative that we hide the fact that we are sinners at all costs, and let no one see our flaws, and the fact that we sometime fall short.  In short, not only is there a misconception of what sin is, it isn’t even something that most people worry about.  Sometimes I think we speak about morality and ethics as a sort of balance or an equation.  Namely, if I do 8 good things, and 2 bad things, I am still a “good” person, and it somehow balances out.  It’s funny though, I don’t remember a lot of good things sometimes- I often remember the bad things that I have done.  We always remember the bad things.

The other problem with sin, and I think that this is why we tend to stray away from the concept of sin altogether, is that we feel ashamed about it- that is probably natural.  What is worse about this is that it can be, and is, used to control us or other people.  It is sort of like poking a bruise on someone’s arm and not stopping until they do whatever it is that we want.  The rest of the body can be healthy, but it is that one tender spot that we will guard and protect, simply because we know it can be used against us.

I think we need to take a good look at what sin is, and how it can be used TOWARD GOOD in our lives and the lives of others.  I think that a lot of people’s notion of sin is very immature.  I know mine has been up until recently.

I was speaking with my spiritual director this last week in the great city of Toledo, Ohio, and this topic came up.  It came up because I deal with guilt and shame and sin just like everyone else does.  My sense of sin, and therefore of love, is currently under a lot of development so it comes up a lot in our conversations.  I guess I will return to the effect that sin has had in my own life and reconing.

As we talked about things, my Spiritual Director, a wise man in many many respects of human nature, told me that there are three levels of sin that we must pass through.  He also told me that most people don’t get out of the first one.  So I think it would be a good idea to write about these three levels of sin.  I think it will suprise people where this takes us, simply because most people’s concept of sin is so basic.

At its base, sin, at least the theological concept of it in the west, is based on a legal concept in Judaism, which later gets translated in some respects, at least in theory (but often not practice).  That concept is, in greek, Hamartia.  Hamartia literally means to “miss the mark.”  Sort of like shooting darts and missing the bullseye.  Of course, this is not exhaustive of the concept of sin, but it is a good starting point.  Some people are good at darts, and some aren’t, but nobody hits the bullseye every time.  So when we “sin” we miss the mark that we are aming for.

So that brings us to the question- what is the mark we are aiming for?  I believe that this is the concept that changes as time goes on, and as we mature psychologically and spiritually.  That is IF we mature psychologically and spiritually. I know from my recent experiences in life that I am not anywhere close to where I should be in those areas.

The three stages of our concept of sin are infantile, adolescent, and adult, or mature.  I don’t think a lot of people get past the first one.  Maybe I am just reading into it though, because until recently my concept of sin wasn’t much better than the first one.

Infantile:  The Old Testament had a lot of infantile concepts of sin.  Basically, it is violation of prohibition- not doing the right thing… “being bad.”  I think that this is the popular notion of sin.  It is how little kids are supposed to be able to tell right from wrong- mom and dad say don’t do this, and if the kid does it, he or she gets in trouble.  This is the moral code of the Old Testament and the Law as well- don’t do this or else.  (Thou shalt not…).  I think that this is a good natural development of sin that we should all go through, but I think that we stop there- it is easy to stop there and not go on simply because it is hard to go on to the other, more mature concepts of sin.  It is good for people to keep their kids or loved ones, or spouses or employees at this level of a concept of sin, because it is black and white and easy to control and manipulate.  It is also easy to make someone feel bad about themselves when all they have is this level of sin- people have been doing since the foundations of civilization.  I know that personally, I was stuck in this concept of sin until recently even though I knew better- I didn’t do things out of motivation of love, but rather out of fear of punishment.

Adolescent:  Our concept of sin should change as we grow older, but again for a lot of folks I don’t think it does.  Adolescence, which my spiritual director said is anywhere from 12-32, is a time of self discovery- a time to figure out who we are on the way of understanding who we are designed to be.  Thus our concept of sin should also change- instead of simply avoiding what is prohibited, the sin of adolescence is in-authenticity- that is, not being who we are authentically meant to be.  Not living up to our potential, or even attempting to- to be untrue to ourselves and not being authentically ourselves.  This requires a development of self-identity that is difficult in this day and age- simply because it is easier to avoid prohibition than it is to develop an identity and live up to that identity.

Not fulfilling his potential

Mature or adult:  This is the ultimate notion of sin I believe.  I think a few of us truly get to this level- it is hard and requires a choice rather than a feeling to avoid.  The sin of adulthood is not simply prohibition, nor is it not “being yourself,” rather it is missing opportunities to love.  Mother Theresa once said that the worse sins are the sins of omission- that is missed opportunities to love.  That is what the first sin is characterized in the Bible for instance- we often blame Eve for the first sin, but truly the first sin is that Adam had an opportunity to give his life in love for his spouse, his neighbor, and he failed to do so.  If love is the willing the good of another, then sin really is the choice not to do so.  It is a not simply doing what is prohibited, but not going the extra mile for the good of ourselves and our brothers and sisters no matter who they are.

My Spiritual Director pointed out the clearest example of this in the story of the Good Samaritan- all those people passed him by when he was mugged on the road because they were prohibited to touch him by the law or their inability to be the neighbor God designed them to be- it was the Samaritan who truly willed the good of the man who was robbed- he took the opportunity to love.

This is not necessarily a Christian concept, although it is highlighted by Christianity- Remember all theology, philosophy, and any science is there to highlight who we are in relationship to the rest of the cosmos.  As ration creatures of free will, we have the innate ability to love- it is something that is in our nature- to will the good of another.  Willing something is a rational choice, and a person that is mature understands that relationship to others, no matter what their background.  As relational beings by nature, we are obligated not only to avoid bad and embrace good, but to be what our nature authentically directs us to be, and to will that others achieve the fullness of their potential as well.

More Important than the Bible… (Opinion and Truth) November 16, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, philosophy, Theology.
Tags: , , ,

OK… calm down folks… read the whole article and you will see what the title means.

I found Waldo… he is strangely alone…

Do you remember those pesky magic eye puzzles that were all the rage ten or fifteen years ago?  About the same time as we were trying to find that stupid Waldo guy (who apparently liked to hang out in large crowds… I can relate) every single mall had a kiosk where they sold these stupid magic eye puzzles.

It is a chinchilla eating a grape… on a sailboat.

To the naked eye, it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting- a hodgepodge (love that word) of colors sort of splattered onto a poster.  Apparently, if you stared at this thing long enough, crossed your eyes, stood on your head, and had a few drinks, the image would change and you would see a farm-scape or a sailboat, or Waldo, in 3D appear before your very eyes.  It just so happened that the next kiosk over sold little bottles of Advil and eye drops, because not only did you have a headache from staring at these stupid posters, but your eyes dried out because you had to hold them open for so long trying to figure out if it was a monkey or a baseball bat that magically appeared out of the mixture of colors and textures.  These stupid things were just as popular back then as hyper-color t-shirts.  (Yea… remember those?  If you touched them they changed color because of the heat in your hand.  Until you washed them once.  I am sure we were all poisoned by those shirts somehow.  Maybe that is how we could see that magic eye puzzle- the hyper color t-shirts were making us hallucinate.)

I have to admit trying out these magic eye puzzles myself the first time.  I walked by the kiosk and saw people just staring into the collection of various eye puzzles, and decided to join the herd.  3 hours later, I think I saw a camel in a space suit pop out in 3D.

It is the Mona Lisa… you see it don’t you?

There were always three types of people at these kiosks- the people that would walk up and look into the magic eye puzzle and instantly yell out (as if any of us cared) “I SEE IT!!  IT IS A SUNSET IN TOKYO IN JUNE!”  Others, grumbling, also loud enough for people to hear, “I just can’t see it, it is just a bunch of colors running together… I just can’t see it… are you sure that’s there?”  The third type of person was the type that felt sorry for the second type of guy who couldn’t see the dolphin jumping out of a bowl of spaghettio’s and would help out assuring the incapable person- “It’ll be alright- just relax- let your eyes cross- don’t you see the dolphin?  He’s right over there!”

This one is meaningless… they just made this one to mess with us.

I think that the most entertaining feature of the magic eye puzzle was not the magic eye puzzle itself, but watching the people stare for minutes at a time into what looked like a child’s finger painting. 

I know the feelin’ buddy.

I did eventually see the images pop out of the posters, and it was neat, but I wonder if there was anything there at all, or if I was just buying into the hype of the magic eye puzzle.  Maybe there was something there and maybe there wasn’t- was it my own perception, or was I borrowing the perception from my neighbor who gleefully “got it?”

Here is an interesting fact I heard recently- up to 90% (90%!!!!) of our perceptions are borrowed from other people.

I will let that sink in for just a minute.

It’s like Homer Simpson once said- 42% of statistics are made up on the spot, but only 12% of people know that.  Sometimes we trust in the perceptions of others more than we know.

So when it comes to a world view- a cosmology as the philosophers like to coin it, a lot of our views come from what other people have told us.  I think that is what Nietzsche was talking about when he was talking about his “will to power.”  The will to power is the ability to impose our own perception onto the people around us.  It works- just watch the news.  They are imposing their views on us all the time, and I am even tempted to believe it simply because it is easier to believe them than to do the research on my own.  I don’t have the time, the resources or the energy to do that.

Perception is a tricky thing.  As I have mentioned in past posts, there are as many perceptions as there are people- if I am looking at this chair, and so are you, we may be seeing the chair differently- I may think it is red, and you may think it is violet.  Perceptions, whether given or borrowed, are never 100% accurate.  That is where communication comes in, in order that we may cut through what is mere opinion to the objective truth underneath.  Life is constantly about that- it is a constant battle that I think a lot people really don’t engage in too well because it is a lot of work.  Rather they would just rather accept the perceptions of others- culture, media, or what have you.

The rose colored glasses of opinion.

What is more important than the chair in our above example is not the chair necessarily, but our perception and our interpretation of the chair.

In a like manner, when we talk about theology, more specifically the Bible, it really isn’t the Bible that is important these days, but it is MY personal interpretation of the Bible that is important.  You can really interpret the Bible in any way you want- a great example that I like to use is the whole slavery issue in the history of the United States- the abolishionists used the Bible to go against slavery, while the south used it to support slavery.

So when it comes down to it these days, what is more important than the Bible, or the Koran, or the Torah, or the Big Book in this culture, is our personal interpretation of the book- I can interpret those books to mean whatever I want them to mean- or whatever someone has told me to interpret them as.  In order to interpret the Bible in the proper way we would need to go back to the original intention of the author (and the Spirit that inspired that author) and begin from there for a proper and true interpretation.  Otherwise the snake handlers are just as justified to handle snakes as any of the mainstream religions.

It is a fine line between figuring out the truth and separating it from mere opinion or perception.  As I said, this is probably the work of our lives, because the intellect seeks the truth.  I do not think that there is a simple answer to this problem, as it goes back to the radical individualism of our modern western culture.  Truth is out there though, it is simply not a matter of perception, but finding the truth requires us in some sense to question the perceptions that we have, the perceptions that others have, and to find the truth that underlies it all.  That doesn’t mean that a generally accepted perception isn’t necessarily true, but we should deeply question EVERYTHING in our search for what is true and what is merely opinion.

There are two philosophers that come to mind here that I think would be important to mention.  The first is Francis Bacon, and the other is Martin Heidegger.  Both of these guys were advocates of what I am talking about- Bacon said that we have preconceived “idols” of the marketplace- accepted notions that were given to us by our upbringing and inculturation that we accept as truth.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t true, but that we need to toss them out every so often to test them to find which is true, and which is simply an “idol.”  Heidegger on the other hand advocates a similar plan- that is to “step into the clearing of being,” in other words like a forest to step into a clearing that the sun (being) is unobscured by the trees of perception and opinion.

The “clearing” of being

Only when we step into the clearing of being, and get rid of the idols of the marketplace, can we begin to compare our own and others perceptions of things- including things like religious texts like the Bible, the the truth.

I remember my first day in philosophy class ten years ago- we studied… I think it was the Phaedo by Plato (I could be wrong on the title of that one)- the whole thing centered on the difference between mere opinion and truth.  Its conclusion was that opinion can be true, but isn’t necessarily true, and it is our task- really our deepest desire- to separate opinion from what is objectively true.  That’s about as hard sometimes as seeing those pecky pictures in the magic eye posters.

At the end of the day, finding truth is sort of like picking Waldo out of one of those “Where’s Waldo” pictures.  There are a lot of things that LOOK like Waldo that are not, just like there are things that APPEAR true which are not.  We can never be content with a look a like to the truth, just like we are not done with our search until we find Waldo, or see the 3D image in the magic eye poster.

Where’s Waldo?  Where is the truth?

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The Philosophical Proof of Relationship in the Trinity November 15, 2007

Posted by rengawman in philosophy, Theology.
Tags: , , ,

In this post I hope to explain in detail, in a thousand words or less, the entire theology of the Trinity.

Just kidding… that would be impossible.  I always get a headache when I think about the Trinity- no doubt it is certainly a mystery.

Trinity was one of the toughest classes I took while I was at the Great and Wonderful Gregorian University in Rome.  It was the second semester of my first year, and I had one of the “Three Amigos,” not to mention one of the best Trinitarian theologians that the Jesuits produced, Luis Ladaria, teaching the class. 

(The “Three Amigos” were three professors we had who came from Spain that semester, hence the name.) (I did not have Steve Martin as a teacher.)


Fr. Ladaria spoke impeccable Italian… there was nary a hint of Spanish mixed into his Italian like some of the other teachers. (I called that Spitalian by the way.)  The only problem with Fr. Ladaria was that he spoke in a sort of resonating tone.  One minute he was completely audible and loud, then mid-sentence he would be silent as a mouse.

(Here he is whispering some important point)

My favorite day, and I am not sure if he was messing with us or not, was when he said:  “The most important thing that you can know about the Trinity and this class is….” At that point we all leaned forward to try and figure out what he had said the most important thing was to know.  He trailed off, and that most important thing was lost to the ages.  I am not even sure that the Italians caught it as there was a collective groan that went through the 400 other students in the classroom.

The Trinity is probably the most important and central mystery in Western Theology.  It is the proposition, based on the revelation of Jesus Christ, that God is within Himself, a relationship of three persons, Father, Son, and the personification of the love between Father, and Son, the Holy Spirit.  So one God, three persons.  For the first thousand years or so of Christianity, the western culture tried to figure out just what the heck that meant.  All sorts of differing opinions arose at that point saying all sorts of things- such as Jesus was created by the Father, or Jesus was just another expression of the Father, or that Jesus was another God etc etc.  All sorts of conflicts arose between sects called Modalists or Arians or even Nestorians who believed that Mary was not the “Mother of God,” implying that Jesus wasn’t God, or that he was somehow separated from his humanity.  It took about a thousand years to work out all the kinks, and to either eliminate the opposing sects, or to re-educate them and absorb them back into the fold.

There are a lot of places that we can look in scripture to support a Trinitarian theology, my favorite actually being Genesis 1:26, where God says:”Let us make man in our own image.”  There is a plural going on there- “us.”  This implies a relationship within God Himself.

So how does this work out philosophically?  Does the idea of a relationship within the being of God make rational sense?  Well let’s start with the philosophical notion of God.  We can go with Plato on this one, that God would be the supreme Good- that being from which all beings flow- the mind of God is where all forms originate and are given to material existence.  God would be the supreme being, containing all things and lacking nothing because he would be all being. (I realize I am skipping over a giant explanation here of how I come to this conclusion, but this is basically what Plato taught).  Given over to Aristotle, the notion of God is that there would be an unmoved mover- that is a being that starts the ball rolling who itself never had a beginning.  (He basically says that you cannot have an infinite regressing series of events, that you have to have a being that itself has no beginning in order to get the universe moving.)

Taking these two philosophical ideas of the supreme being without a beginning, we can begin to apply philosophical concepts to the idea of this supreme being which we will call God.  This idea of God, assuming that we can have a reliable understanding of the world around us through our senses, is completely rational to believe in based on the premesis of nature.

Two distinctions we might have to make though right now- that of “accident” and and “substance.”  This is important for applying some philosophical concepts to this supreme being known as God.  A substance is a thing- this shirt I am wearing is a shirt no matter what color it is.  The color is what we know as an “accidental” quality.  Its size or shape or color etc.  Even if I change the accidental quality of my shirt, let’s say from white to blue, it still remains a shirt.  Shirt-ness is a substantial quality.  Accidents can change in a substance without changing the thing itself.  There are other accidents that are important to things, such as quantity (number of shirts) or most importantly for our purposes- relation- where the shirt is in relationship to other things- like me… or other shirts.  This relationship to me or other shirts can change- I can take off my shirt and throw it into a pile of other shirts- thus the relationship has changed.  On a more complex level, in humans relationship is much more profound, whether we talk about being a stranger, or a child, or a friend, or a lover etc.  The accidental quality of relationship is much more difficult to talk about the more complex a substance is because we can talk about the metaphysical relationships as I mentioned above.

Even if my particular relationships change, I do not change substantially- I am still Josh Wagner no matter what (although my relationships help to determine my identity, I am still a human no matter what my current relationships to other humans or the universe might be- no changing that.)

In the philosophical concept of God, since he is the totality of being- the supreme good, lacks nothing by definition, he would have no “accidental” qualities.  However he does have relationship just like us.  Unlike us however, that relationship is not an “accidental” quality, it is a “substantial” quality.  In other words, if God has relationship (which my definition all beings have relationship) then that relationship must be within HIMSELF, or more philosophically within the SUPREME BEING.  If he were to have an “accidental” relationship, that would mean that he would have “accidental” qualities, which means he can change- God cannot change by definition because he is the supreme being and lacks nothing- change by its definition is a move from non-being to being- that means you change from something you were not before to something you currently are- God can’t do that because he lacks nothing to change into!

This all having been said, it makes philosophical sense that God has a relationship within himself that is substantial, or innately part of who he is as the supreme good, being, lacking nothing etc.  Whether or not that is one relationship or three like the Trinity is left up to revelation, but the theological concept of a relationship within the supreme being is philosophically sound.

Anybody got a headache yet?

What this further means that if freedom is a concept that we have as people, then freedom must necessarily exist within the concept of God as well- so God if he is in a relationship within his own being, must be in a free relationship within his own being.

How is that important to us?  Remember what I said yesterday, that theology, and really all sciences, are a way of studying humanity.  The way that theology understands humanity is by understanding the source of humanity, namely God.  If this concept of relationship within God is philosophically valid, then it does tell us a couple of things about humanity.

First, that if we are made in the image of and likeness of God it follows that we can glean two important things from that- first that we are in relationship- it is fundamental to who we are as people- our relationships to God and to those around us help us to determine our identity.  So if we have an unhealthy relationship in our lives, then we have an unhealthy identity somewhere as well.  Second, is that we are free.  Freedom is something that is divine- the ability to choose to give ourselves freely for the good of someone else mirrors what happens within the Godhead- theologically speaking the Father gives everything he is to the Son in the Holy Spirit.  Philosophically speaking, if there is a relationship within God, one person (or relationship) must necessarily give all that it has to the other person(s) or (relationship(s)).

 That gives us a program for life- first to find out if our relationships are healthy, and second to see if the choices that we are making are being made for the supreme good of the other people in our relationships.  That choice of the supreme good- is called love.