Friday, November 30, 2012

Electronic Teaching & Discussion

In the spring of 2011, I decided to step away from the traditional classroom and teaching. I felt that the rountine of class presentations and the repetition of 3-4 classes was just too much for me. I have never been a teacher who sticks to written notes and I found myself losing it in regard to covering the necessary material in all classes as they followed one another. To me it was like giving the same homily over and over! Honestly, I have a hard time repeating a homily twice!

In teaching Social Justice and Peace, I will always remember the section of the textbook dealing with the elderly of society and how we treat them. As I grow older, I try to be honest about aging and what I can do and to be honest about what I really should be letting go. So I want to admit that there were actually days when I could not remember the names of some of my students sitting right in front of me. It was embarrassing, to say the least. When I have failure of memory now and it is happening more and more often, I try to say that I am having a senior moment. Most people are kind enough to help me say the word I am groping for or to remember a name.

However, since I have left the classroom, some alums are disappointed. Some want me to teach their own sons, so that father-son can have the same experience. Actually there are a few monks still in the teaching ranks that are having this very experience right now. Abbot Michael would be one of those teachers.

So eventhough I have been getting some "flack" about not being in the classroom any more, there have been some suggestions about doing something on line. In many ways, I have never left the classroom-- the classroom has just taken on a different meaning. One alum, who has kept in contact all these years, would be Dan Mulhall of 1980.Of course, since Dan is in the same business that I dabble in, gardening and landscaping, etc., we have had a natural connection. But Dan is the alum who keeps encouraging me to think outside the box in regard to teaching and to try something electronically. Dan has been an avid reader ever since I have known him. I do believe there is a point when many students surpass their teachers. He would be one of them. Over the years he has suggested many books to me and he continues to re-read books of his days here at Mount Michael. It has been a pleasure to exchange opinions and thoughts about an author or a particular theme or thought expressed by an author. Just this past summer, when it was so hot and dry, Dan sent me an e-mail message to enquire about how I was holding up in regard to gardening under such extreme weather conditions. In the same message he mentioned that he had just re-read Michener's CENTENNIAL. I will always have very fond memories of teaching that long, long novel. I think to this day, there are some alums who play a type of trivia game in regard to characters and material treated in that novel. Who could ever forget:  Pasquiel, my brooder--McKeag, Blue Leaf, Potato Brumbaugh, Rufus and on and on!

I must admit that there were some very memorable and wonderful moments in those literature classes over all those years. I am going to mention some names and I know that as soon as I do this I will miss some alums and some great discussions, however by doing this perhaps I can stir up some enthusiasm to go back to these pieces of literature and get alums and maybe even present students to do more reading. But before I start recalling classroom moments, I also want to admit that everything I did in the classroom was not always the best thing. When under strain and pressure I did not always response in the best way. I trust that I can be forgiven for those times. The old meaning of classroom is a closed chapter now and I want to move on to another one.

Here are just a few names an incidents that come to mind.

Brian Phipps -- INHERIT THE WIND -- Brian inspired me to teach that play -- I think Brian played Clarence Darrow in one of the drama presentations -- I always thought that it was rather tight casting for Brian was a perfect Clarence Darrow during the monkey trial, riddling William Jennings Bryan in regard the Bible.

Theodore Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY -- I can't believe that I pulled students through that long novel, but it seemed like I struck the nail on the head with some alums -- Tim Zach, Mike O"Neill, Pat Regan.

The play ON GOLDEN POND -- to liven up class, I decided it would not be such a bad thing to do some acting in class. Of course, that meant that some students had to be female characters-- Mickey Gotsch was an awesome Ethel Thayer! This was Mick's junior year -- you bailed after that year for Elkhorn Public!

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST -- lots of alums come to mind with this novel. But one who sticks out in my mind would be Mike Cizek. Mike, you aruged with me for a long time whether or not Cheswick took his own life-- remember that? What do you think now? And having just written this, my mind also runs back to Ryan Moody of the class of 1992-- maybe I am confusing who doubted Cheswick's demise-- just one more indication of loss of memory.

Fydor Dostovevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. That is another novel that I am shocked about pulling students through. But it was such a great success that I refused to repeat the experience. John Lumir Drahota -- you were in one of those classes of Elective Literature. Remember?

Eugene O'Neill -- LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT-- I am pretty sure that this play is the reason why Tim Dalton did so well on the AP English Lit Exam. I was very impressed with your free response essay on this play, Tim. It was awesome.

These are just a few that come to mind right now. Perhaps we can get much more going by reading and discussing in the future.

I will just finish this blog with a few memories about style in the classroom.

Journal writing and creative writing did wonders for lots of students -- this was mostly in the 80's. Admittedly, that some entries in your journals were alittle off color and weak, but there were some great ones as well. I wished I had those to go back to right now.

Of recent years in theology class (Social Justice and Peace and Christian Lifestyles) there were several methods that I used that seemed to work really well.
I will just list three and let you students take over from there.
2)Building community and unity in the class -- each student sitting on the throne and listening to each of your classmates tell you about 3 qualities of character that he sees in you!
3)Field Trip to Schuyler, Nebraska.

So to be concrete-- if you want to get involved with this, your homework is to read Morris West's novel, THE CLOWNS OF GOD. I just re-read it again this past week. It was as exciting as the first time I read it. And it is so appropriate for this time of the year. I would guess that it will make your Advent and Christmas season so much better if you do read it.

Blessings and I hope to be hearing from you.

Fr. John/Padre Juan


  1. Guess I need to get "The Clowns of God"....have been wanting a good read for down at Mallard Inn. I must admit that I was one former student that was disappointed that my son wouldn't get the benefit of having you as his teacher for literature, but certainly understand your drain of enthusiasm following multiple classes on the same piece. Over the years I have reread many of the novels that you taught in class...East of Eden, Centennial, Catcher and too many Ernie's to list...and often think that I wouldn't enjoy reading had it not been for the exposure to literature that you inspired in the classroom. Your love of a great novel was THANK YOU! I look forward to discussing CoG with you over a scotch down at Mallard Inn.

  2. I am almost done with "Clowns" and highly recommend it. It is a great way to reflect on one's faith without really trying. The story line is compelling enough to keep one interested while in the back of your head you will be thinking about what you believe. (As well, I now how a different perspective for what the Cold War was like for people in Europe.) It started a bit slow for me but about 1/3 of the way through it, I was hooked. I'm interested to hear what others have to say. Happy New Year! Go Knights!

  3. Dan, thank you for your comment! At this point, you are the only one it seems to have read the novel (C of G), unless some just have not responded yet. I have been waiting for you to finish the novel so as not to spoil the ending for you. But now it is time to talk about the story. I am curious what you thought of Mr. Atha? And I am even more curious about what you thought about Jean Marie's acceptance of Mr. Atha -- is it believeable to you that a de-throned pope would have trouble accepting Mr. Atha? I will have many more questions later. And I have had an experience shortly after I finished the novel. No -- not a vision -- but trust me, a great experience.

  4. Mr. Atha was a very interesting character but it did not surprise me at all that Jean Marie – a one time pope – had trouble accepting his claims. The author did a masterful job of showing Mr. Atha as a humble servant with knowledge and wisdom that seemed beyond his station. And like the main character of some books written 2000 years prior, Mr. Atha did not attempt to use his abilities to gain power, influence or fame. But for most of us, and I would think a this would be especially true for a former pope -- who spent his lifetime studying, honoring and praising Christ -- the commonness of Christ and the humanity of Christ gets lost in the appreciation of the power of Christ. We claim to honor the humble servants, but we cheer for those who perform. Imagine what it would be like to be a pope and sit on a throne in Vatican City as the defacto leader of Christ’s church. Imagine what those around you would say to you, what you would be told was important. Imagine the faithful, celebrities and heads of state bowing to you and kissing your ring. Then imagine a rehab nurse coming to see you. Would you recognize him? I would think it would be much easier for a simple child on the plains of Nebraska to do so than a pope -- or former pope.

    Now let me ask a question. Does God change His mind?

    1. Ok Dan, you have asked a tough question. But first-- your respoonse to my question is awesome! My personal opinion is that most humans would have difficulty in recognizing, let alone accepting the Lord at His 2nd coming. -- a simple child on the plains of Nebraska -- I like that!
      So the question you ask is the same one that Jean Marie asked Mr. Atha. Remember? Jean Marie questions Mr. Atha about changing one's mind in regard to destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So before I get into theological trouble, I ask you to go back and re-read the last few pages of the novel. Perhaps you will find your answer. But after you do that I will still have another respoonse.

  5. Over the years of working at MM, I have encountered many families who have a mentally challenged child or a physically challenged child. The Clowns of God has much to do with these children. In my edition of this novel, on page 389 Mr. Atha says this:"You need a sign...I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you--eternal innocence...She will never pervert or destory the work of my Father's hands...She will remind you every day that I am who I am... I have chosen you. You have not chosen me. This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!"
    I have read these lines over and over -- how very awesome.
    Look for the next blog!

  6. Juan,

    I have not read the book, but this is a lovely quote. Ben is now 13, and is a sign and gift from God, although not a "mite" at 5'9" and 155 lbs. Rose likes to call him a lamb, and I think that this is an apt comparison.

    When Ben was first diagnosed, and for years after, I grieved the typical childhood that autism had taken from him. We put great effort (8 years of therapy at 40 hours/wk) into teaching Ben to talk, read and interact/behave like a normal child. As a reward for these efforts Ben is mainstreamed in 7th grade. Yet he is not a typical seventh grader. As you know, when you see Ben, you know that something is not "normal".

    One day, several years ago, I quit grieving and accepted Ben for what he was, not the son that I had envisioned that I would have while his mother was expecting him. This was in large part because I saw the profound impact that Ben had on the lives of so many people from teachers to therapists to the random man on the street. It was also in part because I accepted that God, in his infinite wisdom, had chosen Lori and I to be his parents. I have learned that it is both trite and untrue to say that God "only gives you things that you can handle". I now feel that God did not consider whether or not I could handle Ben when he sent him to me, but rather that God knew that I needed Ben.

    Ben, in his "eternal innocence" and goodness, represents Jesus in our midst. He is an example for all who know him and will no doubt help many among us achieve heaven.

    It is sad that people like Ben are often devalued in our society. I speculate that this is because they are not "productive members of society", materially speaking. However, I suspect that Ben's unselfish, naturally occurring innocence and goodness will achieve more good in his lifetime than many of us could hope to effect from a lifetime of work, or striving to be Christ-like without these gifts.

    Juan, thank you for letting me reply to this post. Enjoyed the reference to Brian Phipps, as well as Centennial. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"


  7. BJW, your post is touching and inspiring. I thought your rejection of the idea that God gives us only what we can handle was profound. As if testing us was some kind of sport. That would be a hard god to love.

    I’m reminded of something our parish priest, Fr. Tom O’Brien, often said “God does not choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.” His point was that God gives us the tools and means to handle whatever life chooses to throw our way. It’s work to find and use these tools, but they are there. Your post very well articulates the blessings that came from your, your wife’s and Ben’s hard work.

    What excites me most about this project Fr. John is leading us on is that we will be able to discuss things with the perspective of our own life lessons. There is so much we can learn from each other if we take the time.

    One of the concepts of Clowns I would like to explore more is “image and likeness of God.” It is something I have not thought much about before reading the book. To this point, I was thinking it had to do with physical appearance, but now I believe that it is utterly silly.

    While we all have generally the same body parts, we come in many colors and sizes. We speak and understand different languages. We eat and enjoy different food, drink, entertainment and sport. We are women and men. We are gay and straight. We are quick witted and dull. We are athletic and clumsy. We are happy and sad. Some of us believe in God; some do not. Some know Christ; some do not. The list goes on. So based on that, what is the image and likeness we take after?

  8. One book leads to another. I think you really need to read Ron Rolheiser's The Holy Longing, DMT. The last part of the book really presents a great "image and likeness of God." Jeannot

    1. DMT, After a night's sleep, I decided my response was not good enough to just say: Read another book. I looked up the last part of Rolheiser - Holy Longing-- you would have to read only 4-5 pages. But here are some of Rolheiser's words: "What does God look like? What kind of God did Jesus reveal?" One of the great Christian mystics, Julian of Norwich, once described God this way: (Here Rolheiser quotes Norwich) "Completely relaxed and courteous, he was himself the happiness and peace of dear friends, his beautiful face, radiating measureless love, like a marvellous symphony; and it was that wonderful face shining with the beauty of God that filled that heavenly place with joy and light."

      Doesn't this make you want to read Norwich as well?

      Then there are two other lines from movies based on books: Victor Hugo -- Les Miserables -- to love another person is to see the face of God.

      And never forget a wonderful woman of our church -- Sr. Helen Prejean -- Dead Man Walking -- the scene in the movie when Sr. Helen becomes the face of love for Matthew Poncelet -- or Patrick Sonnier. (Rolheiser uses this sceene in his Holy Longing as well.)

      Keep reading, DMT. And thank you for all the reading suggestions you have pass on to me!! Blessings and know that you are a blessing.

  9. Padre,

    I wanted to add a classroom memory. I will never forget you teaching Heart of Darkness. In the past 25 years, I constantly remember that book as I have taken my various journeys into the river of my own heart. I always come back to that book. I guess I need to reread Clowns of God and probably a bunch of other books we read in class, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway's short stories, The Great Gatsby (I have very vivid memories of you teaching that book as well. It is remarkable how you identify with characters during periods of your life. I have felt like Nick Carraway several times).

    Now that the hussle anbd bustle of the holidays are concluded and we have finished our travles, I will see if I can dig out Clowns of God.

    I was struck by your note regarding change. Time marches on. One of my favorite sayings is that change is certain, fear is optional. Most resistance to change is fear, here the fear that the Mt. Michael expereince won't be the same. Perahps I take a different perpsectives can be opened in which new discussions can occur between father and son. In any event, you have done your duty. Enjoy what you are doing. Do not feel guilty. My thought is your former students should want what is best for you and if this is it, God Bless.

    Janet's cousin has a son in the freshman class, JT Hudson. Tell him hi for us.

    Brian Mark

  10. Hello Fr. John,

    Here are some rambling thoughts on the book. I hope I don’t have to be particularly organized here. If this seems disjointed, at least perhaps it will generate a question or thought or two if nothing else.

    Also, I put this together purposely without reading any of the existing discussion. Hopefully my thoughts will have just enough relevance and not too much redundancy with regard to the existing discussion.

    I will send this in a few installments since it is long…

    Mike O’Neill

    I spent the first part of the book with the impression that the book was about the end of the world (though I did see hints that the book was primarily about something else in the cautious way that Carl responded to Jean Marie.) But given my initial impression and assumptions regarding the Second Coming subject matter, I was plagued with the continuing thought that this was not the book I would have written. Something was bothering me. Now, it’s not the job of the amateur literary critic to rewrite someone else’s book. So I held that nagging criticism at arm’s length ready to drop it easily.

    So what was wrong? My problem was that I was troubled by the voice of Jean Marie. Not Jean Marie the man, but Jean Marie the Pope. Something about his voice didn’t register. And then the thought crystallized. I realized that my preconceived idea of a guy proclaiming the Second Coming looked a lot more like John the Baptist than the Pope in West’s book. So that was my personal bias and it had crept into my reading.

    I don’t mean that the prophet needs to look like John the Baptist in physical appearance. In fact, Jean Marie seemed closer in appearance to a common man than to a Pope. Rather, I thought that the character ought to “look” like a man of unquestioning faith. When we finally meet Jean Marie, he didn’t come across to me in that light. At that point, he was a man more fearful of undermining the Church and stirring the masses than spreading the Word of God from on high come what may.

    From page 184 of my book, the Roman Catholic editor of the London Times regarding he Rainer/Mendelius account of the abdication writes the following:

    “…It says much for the collective wisdom of the hinge-men of the Roman Catholic Church that they were prepared to act promptly and in unity against what they saw as a revival of the ancient Gnostic heresy. It says even more for the deep spirituality of Pope Gregory XVII that he chose to retire from office rather than divide the assembly of believers.”

    Also, on page 260 of my book:

    “…I know what I must do: spread the word that the last days are upon us and that all men of goodwill must prepare for them. I know also what I must not do: make confusions or dissensions among honest believers, or undermine the principles of legitimate authority in the Christian community…”

    Also, on page 290 of my book, when Jean Marie was asked why his identity as author of the last letters could not be revealed by Waldo Pearson:

    “Please! There are good reasons. If my identity is known, I may seem to put myself in conflict with the present Pontiff. I do not want that.”

    Why was that considered deep spirituality? Why would proclaiming the Second Coming divide believers unless some are not true believers? When I thought about Jean Marie while reading, I kept going back to Matthew 8:22 (not that I remembered the book and verse of the Bible, I had to look that up!): But Jesus told him, follow me and let the dead bury their dead. Was Jean Marie doing that?

  11. Continuing from Mike O'Neill...

    One other quick thought regarding Jean Marie’s reticence to speak directly to the world about his vision. I think one area of the story that is interesting regards the world’s reaction to the Pope’s vision. Unless I missed it, there’s no real mention of a large-scale belief in Jean Marie’s vision. There is a suggestion, especially at the end of the book, of small communities of believers as set against large worldly governments hell bent on destroying the planet. There is no suggestion that millions of Catholics would rise up in support of their Pope and against the Vatican government. The only way that such an uprising could have been avoided is if Jean Marie’s true identity and his vision as laid out by Carl to the world had been suppressed enough to be kept essentially a secret. I think the book takes pains to make that case. Without such suppression, it becomes a very different storyline.

    Okay, back to Matthew 8:22. What does it mean to let the dead bury their dead? For the person walking away from his dead father’s body, it means a forward looking and unquestioning faith. If you’re proclaiming the Second Coming, that’s different than simply saying that the world is about to be destroyed at man’s hand. It means something different for Christians. And it is something that in theory should be celebrated, not tiptoed around. My bias as I read the book was toward a prophet of unquestioning faith plowing ahead leaving concerns for worldly matters behind. That was not the voice of Jean Marie for me, nor did his character make choices consistent with someone sitting on the authority of a God-given vision. He had had a bully pulpit from which to exclaim to the world and he allowed himself to be quieted. Not silenced totally, but quieted. In his letter to Carl requesting help Jean Marie wrote:

    “In this, the long dark night of my soul, when reason staggers and the faith of a lifetime seems almost lost, I turn to you for the grace of understanding…So much for human frailty! I have not yet learned to trust the Lord whose gospel I proclaim!”

    Jean Marie also wrote:

    “I told myself, I tried to convince the leaders of nations, that even one year’s deferment of Armageddon would be victory. Nevertheless, the fear of impending holocaust haunted me day and night, sapped my reserves of courage and confidence.”

    Why did Jean Marie fear the end of the world? Again from his letter to Carl describing his vision:

    “In a moment of exquisite agony I understood that I must announce this event, prepare the world for it. I was called to proclaim that the Last Days were very near and that mankind should prepare for the Parousia: The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus.”

    Jean Marie did not however choose to announce this to the world directly. He sought a more circuitous route that protected the Church and his identity to a degree. This is the Second Coming we are reading about after all! Why the timidity? Did Jean Marie lack faith in his vision? No, clearly he did not. Did he lack faith in the community of believers? If so, why should that matter? Let the dead bury their dead. So as to the plotline, I kept asking myself: Is that how it would play out in real life? I scratched my head as I read.

  12. So if Jean Marie did not have the voice I wanted for the story I wanted, what then I asked myself, was this book really about? Why was the character of Jean Marie the protagonist of the book? Perhaps it wasn’t really about the end of the world??? Despite these thoughts, I recognized all along as I read the book that I needed to take the book as intended and try to get past my nagging bias. And perhaps Jean Marie’s behavior actually fed the real subject matter of the story instead of my imagined one. One thing that helped me in part was that I recalled that Mother Teresa admitted to those who knew her that she had a terrible lack of faith in the existence of God. If she had such questions, then my understanding of Jean Marie ought to allow for him to stumble (in my estimation) a bit through the process of spreading the word of the apocalypse. Obviously, West had set up this book from his own perspective regarding that same process. I was not sure how well the book went about plotting out the details of that process, but I was going to have to suspend my disbelief.

    And so, what, if not the actual Second Coming, was this book all about? Simply put, it was about faith and trust. Or lack of faith perhaps.

    Faith. As far as we knew in the first third of the book, when Carl was struggling with Jean Marie’s request, Jean Marie did seem to be a man of some faith, at least from afar. He was a Pope that willingly stepped down rather than deny his vision. Carl on the other hand, well, he needed quite a bit of convincing that his friend had had a real vision. His faith needed reassurance. The Bible is full of warnings against false prophets, so there is some precedent for doubt, but this was the Pope and furthermore a very close friend that Carl doubted. Where was Carl’s faith? How would we have reacted in the same situation? I had every faith in Fr. Nat when he taught us what a tangent was in Geometry class. Lines and angles are known by definition. But I had far less faith in him when he told us in 1980 that he believed the Mount Michael boiler would hold out another winter. Oh the mind is willing, but the flesh is cold!

    Some random thoughts about West’s plot for the story:

    --Even as I struggled with Jean Marie’s voice, I think the story was more compelling because the doomsdayer was a Pope and not a man on the street corner holding a sign admonishing the sinful to repent and be saved. Nobody wants to be nagged about the Second Coming, but it’s the God-given right of the Pope to do that nagging. And it set up a fruitful plot full of possibility. Not that a lowly peasant couldn’t have had the vision that Jean Marie had, but how do you drive the plot in that case? How do you make a voice in the wilderness heard in 1980? Perhaps if there had been youtube... No, you probably needed a world leader as the protagonist. And making him the Pope set up an excellent framework for dealing with faith issues.

    --Also, as an author, no doubt West had a good command of what it would be like to navigate through the publishing world to get a message out. I thought, given that Jean Marie’s voice had been almost silenced, that West set out a plausible avenue for spreading Jean Marie’s message through various publishing outlets. (The letters from a small planet didn’t quite hit the mark for me, but more about that later.)

    --That Jean Marie would fear for his life from threat of intervention by world governments seemed plausible. But that others of means would protect him in equal measure seems plausible too.

    --Mr. Atha’s appearance fulfilled the idea that Christ could walk among mankind unnoticed. I would have named him Tom Osborne myself.

  13. Continuing from Mike O'Neill...

    A couple of additional thoughts on faith in the book:

    --I’ve said that Jean Marie had some faith. But he lacked complete faith. He too said it himself in his letter to Carl. How then did Jean Marie’s lack of faith manifest itself? Well, not even he seemed celebratory about the end times. (That was central to one of the questions in the book: would the end of the world as we know it be the actual end of the world or would it be the beginning of a better world?) Such fear of the end of the world is natural human reaction, but you will recall that John the Baptist as well as other early Christians met death with a glad heart because they had supreme faith in their fate. Jean Marie’s vision seemed to indicate a dead planet and that frightened him. Would such a vision have frightened the early Church leaders or did they believe that the return of Christ would usher in a paradise on earth?

    --On page 194 of my copy Jean Marie when Drexel asked him what it was that he really wanted:

    “Enough light to see a divine sense of the mad world. Enough faith to follow the light. That’s the core of it all, isn’t it? Faith to move mountains, to say to the cripple: ‘Arise and walk!”

    --The letters from a small planet. From what we were shown in the book, the letters were a vehicle for expressing uncertainty about the plans of God. This contrivance did not inspire me. Perhaps that idea seems to make more sense in another culture. The clown idea did tie back to the clowns of God, or as I read it, the children of God. All humans are the children of God. All humans therefore are the clowns of God. But why not write the letter as if it were from a child of God, even if that “child” happened to be old enough to understand and ask sophisticated questions of God? I’d like to ask West about this.

    Here’s another thought: I also think one could have very fruitful discussions about faith by studying just about any of the other characters in the book. The plot sets up a framework for that sort of by default. And the characters vary from having no faith at all to seeking complete faith. Even Duhamel at the end exclaimed, “Thank Christ!” Of course, he was in the proverbial foxhole at the time.

  14. Continuing from Mike O'Neill...

    The ending of the book:

    Okay, one last look at Matthew 8:22. Let’s see if this verse that nagged at me while I read the book has any real bearing on the story here. When Jean Marie asked Pierre Duhamel what was to become of the clowns of God on Rubicon day, Duhamel suggests that the plan is for them to be “eliminated.” And as to their worldly existences, is that fate also not quietly accepted by Christ in Matthew 8:22? And to take it a step further, isn’t that fate implied for all people tied to this world, especially when the end of the world finally does arrive? To have faith must mean to accept this fate gladly.

    So here is the scenario: Mr. Atha walks among men. Jean Marie is confronted with the idea of following him into the end times. Jean Marie asks to be given time to “bury his dead”—to contend with worldly matters and to save souls perhaps. Jean Marie asks:

    “…Tell me: can you really change your mind?”
    “Why do you ask?”
    “Abraham bargained with God for Sodom and Gomorrah. He said, ‘If there be a hundred or twenty or ten just men in the cities, will you spare them?’ And God, so the Scripture said, was very reasonable about the whole affair. Our Jesus who was of the seed of Abraham said that whatever we ask will be given to us. We should knock at the door and clamour to be heard. But there’s no point in that if there’s no one inside—or if the one inside is a mad spirit whiling heedless with the galaxies.”
    “Ask then!” said Mr. Atha. “What do you want?”
    “Time.” Jean Marie Barette held the child close to him and pleaded as he had never pleaded in his life before. “Please! If you are the Lord, do you want to march into your world like the old barbarians on a carpet of dead bodies? That would be surely an unworthy triumph…This child is a great gift; but we need all the children and time enough to deserve them. Please!”
    “And what can you offer me in return?”
    “Very little,” said Jean Marie with bleak simplicity. “I am diminished now. I have to think in small ways; but, such as I am, you can have me!”
    “I accept,” said Mr. Atha.
    “How much time will you give us?”
    “Not too much—but enough!”
    “Thank you. Thank you from us all.”
    “Now are you ready to testify?
    “Yes, I’m ready.”

    Carl Mendelius makes one last faithless challenge to Mr. Atha’s identity, but in the end Jean Marie proclaims is ultimate belief.

    So now compare that passage of the book with Matthew 8:22. I think it is an interesting contrast and thought provoking. I see the central theme of the book, that being questions of faith, being expressed in that very contrast.

    And one last thing. Here is the clue to Mr. Atha’s identity from earlier in the book. Page 349 of my book:

    “I thought you told me you were not a believer.”
    “Nor am I,” said Mr. Atha. “Belief is impossible to me.”
    “Relatively or absolutely” Jean Marie teased him with a theologian’s question.
    “Absolutely,” said Mr. Atha.

  15. My goodness Mike, you have many very interesting insights. I am a bit confused as to what you ended up concluding about the Jean Marie character. So let me ask you this. If God wanted to let the world know that "the end was near," how would you imagine He would go about it?

    Secondarily, what did you make of the lectures Carl was giving about the end times?


  16. Hi Dan,

    If your question is about his faith, I ended up concluding that Jean Marie was, after meeting Mr. Atha, stripped of his doubts. Mr. Atha proclaimed him a man on which he could build a small standing place for his people. If Christ says that, one has to take him at His word.

    Practically speaking, how does God get the word out that the world is coming to an end? Books have been written about the Book of Revelation. Let’s say for the sake of discussion that West’s book was about the Second Coming (and not a more focused study of Jean Marie’s faith, which I believe it is,) and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse had arrived: such things as war, famine, etc. Or that those things were right around the corner. If the goal is to get the word out I think the Pope would be as good a vehicle as any. Even then the community of believers would be slow to get on board I suspect. Before recently I would also have recommended Manti Te’o for the job, despite his uninspired bowl game. Not so much anymore.

    But again, I don’t think the book was about the Second Coming so much as about the exploration of faith.

    As to Carl, I never totally got the impression that he believed wholeheartedly in Jean Marie’s vision. But he put himself and his family at great risk to help his friend nonetheless and the lectures were part of that effort. Here are a couple of things I noted about him from the book:

    “If you take my advice, you’ll drop the whole affair.” (Anneliese Meissner)
    “You’re a scholar with an international reputation. You want no truck with madness and folk magic.”
    “Jean Marie is my friend. I owe him at least an honest enquiry.”

    And also this between Carl and Jean Marie:

    “…In the matter of your private revelation, Jean, I am agnostic. I do not know. Therefore I cannot act. But in the matter of us—old friends of the heart!—if I have little faith, I still have much love. Believe that, please!”
    “I believe it.”
    “I cannot accept a mission in which I do not believe—and on which you have no authority to send me. But I can do something to test your ideas of an international audience.”
    “And how would you propose to do that, Carl?”
    “Two ways. First, I could arrange with a Georg Rainer, a journalist of authority, to publish an accurate account of your abdication. Second, I myself would write, for the international press, a personal memoir on my friend the former Gregory the Seventeenth. In this memoir I should draw attention to the ideas expressed in your encyclical. Finally, I could ensure that the two pieces were brought to the notice of the people on your diplomatic list…Understand what I am offering, Jean. It is not an advocacy, not a crusade, but an honest history, a sympathetic portrait, a clear exposition of your ideas as I have understood them…with a chance for total disclaimer if you don’t like whatever is written.”

    So now, about his lecture. Here is what Carl said at the end of one of his lectures to the people seated there. He had asked them how they would react to the imminent end of the world and got various responses that seemed to me skirted the issue. At any rate, in the end he asked this:

    “When the black night comes down, in the great desert, when there is neither pillar of cloud nor spark of fire to light the path, when the voice of authority is stilled, and we hear nothing but the confusion of old argument, when God seems to absent himself from his own universe, where do we turn? Whom can we sanely believe?”

    When I read that the first time I took it as Carl testing the waters of Jean Marie’s vision and how it would sit with the community of believers. Perhaps you could say that the lectures were a vehicle for Carl to test his own willingness to pursue the request from Jean Marie to help. That passage of the book ends there without giving us the reactions of the people in the audience to Carl’s words.