Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Swing of the Bat and the Rangers defeat the Giants 4-2 in Game 3

Josh Hamilton and Rangers’ team mates celebrate after his 5th inning home run (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The World Series went to Texas and the Texas Rangers got out to an early lead off Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez and never lost it to give the Rangers the win and hope to come back in the Series.  Sanchez was not sharp and struggled in 4.2 innings work but the major damage was done with two outs in the bottom of the 2nd inning when rookie First Baseman Mitch Moreland fought off pitch after pitch with two strikes and belted a home run into deep right center field to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead.  Sanchez gave up a solo shot to Josh Hamilton in the bottom of the 5th inning which drove him from the game.  Giants’ relievers held the game close and the Giants threatened but could not come back.

Cody Ross hits a home run in game three (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis pitched the Giants well going 7.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. Both runs were the result of Giants home runs by Cody Ross and Andres Torres.

The Rangers had 4 runs on 8 hits with no errors and the Giants 2 runs on 5 hits with an error. Colby Lewis got the win for Texas and Sanchez the loss. Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless 9th inning to get the save as the Rangers drew within one game of the Giants.

The teams meet tonight with Madson Bumgarner (7-6 3.00 ERA) on the hill for the Giants and Tommy Hunter (13-4 3.73 ERA) on the mound for the Rangers.

See you after the game

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s Horrific Humor: Young Frankenstein

Horror and comedy, like peanut butter cups they are two great tastes that go great together. I think that the funniest of this genre are those based on the classics such as Frankenstein and Dracula. There are other films that fit this category such as Love at First Bite a Dracula film set in the late 1970s staring George Hamilton, Jill St. John and Arte Johnson.  Other twists on the Dracula story is Mel Brooks Dracula Dead and Loving It which starred Leslie Nielsen, Peter McNichol, Harvey Korman and Amy Yasbeck and Once Bitten starring Lauren Hutton.  I also like some that are new creations in their own right such as Ghostbusters.  However, for me the film that is the real classic among all of them is Young Frankenstein. So in the spirit of Halloween I submit to you Padre Steve’s favorite all-time Horror Comedy Young Frankenstein.

Of course the first on my list is Mel Brooks classic Young Frankenstein which came out in 1974, the same year as Brooks’ other classic of Western filmography Brazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein is the classic humorous take on the Mary Beth Shelley Frankenstein novel and subsequent films.  It starred Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Terry Garr, Cloris Leachman and the late Peter Boyle as the Monster Brooks. Brooks used the original set from the original Frankenstein and brought the Frankenstein saga a hilarious twist. It is hard to forget some of the great scenes such as when Dr. Frankenstein discovers that he has implanted an abnormal brain in the monster, and the subsequent game of charades as Inga and Igor try to guess what the Doctor wants as he struggles in the grasp of the Monster “give him a sedagive.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wP5Gcuwp2Sg Of course after a “sedative” has been administered the conversation between the Dr. Frankenstein and Igor is classic.  The Doctor sits down and questions Igor about the brain about the brain and Igor tells the Doctor that the brain belonged to “Abby someone, Abby Normal.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQ_pKqiB5Rg

There is the scene where the Monster escapes and comes to a small house where a blind monk played by Gene Hackman awaits.  The monk offers the Monster hospitality which turns into a horror story with the Monster as the victim.  The Monster has hot soup spilled on his lap, his mug of wine shattered and finger set afire by the well meaning monk and runs out in terror.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw2IIU0a9qw&feature=related

Of course there all of the one-liners and gags interspersed through the film at a cyclic rate which leave the audience laughing.  I remember seeing the film for the first time when it came out in 1974 in Stockton California.  The opening scene where someone opens the crypt of the elder Dr. Frankenstein to retrieve his diary and has to fight the skeleton is just the beginning of the fun.  The fun continues with the young Dr. Frankenstein, a neurosurgeon saying that his name was pronounced “Fronkensteen” rather than Frankenstein when questioned by a medical student about his grandfather’s experiments.  One can’t forget the scene in the graveyard when the Doctor and Igor are digging up the body of the monster.  When the Doctor complains Igor utters the immortal line “it could be worse it could be raining” which of course was followed by a thunderclap and downpour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHb7DJDCptA&feature=related

Of course we cannot leave out Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher and every time that her name was said that the horses would “whiney.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-wTbNIsopg&feature=related

Then there is the sequence after Doctor Frankenstein’s arrival in Transylvania and rides to his castle with Igor and Inga.  The Doctor hears a wolf howling in the distance and asks “Werewolf” and Igor answers “there wolf.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQQtgx4iG8E&feature=related This sequence of course includes the part where Inga asks Doctor Frankenstein about having a “roll in the hay” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqClWdOcWog&feature=related and their arrival at the castle.  Dr. Frankenstein sees a large set of door knockers as he is lifting Inga off the wagon saying “what knockers” and Inga answering “well thank you Doctor.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9K9wiH2Lko

Likewise there is the segment where Madeline Kahn playing Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé Elizabeth is abducted by the Monster. The Monster has fallen in love with her as he takes her she discovers something that leaves her singing “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9K9wiH2Lko

Of course this is followed at the end of the film when the newlywed Doctor and Inga are in their bedroom and she asks him what he received from the Monster and then begins to sing “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you” when she discovers exactly what her husband received from the Monster.

This has to be one of the greatest horror-comedies of all time if not the very best.  Everything from the sets to the gags and great interactions among the characters makes this one of the greatest if not the greatest film of its genre ever made. The film is so stocked with great lines and scenes that there are too many to mention here, so if you never have seen this comedy classic go get it.

So Happy Halloween my friends and in the midst of all the blood and gore films, have a good laugh with Young Frankenstein.

Peace.

Padre Steve+

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And so the Giants Can’t hit….tell me about it: Giants Crush Rangers 9-0 go up 2-0 in Series

Matt Cain dominated the Rangers (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

So the San Francisco Giants can’t hit….tell that to the Texas Rangers who have given up 20 runs in the first two games of the World Series.  Of course when the opposition scores no runs it makes it a lot easier to win and in game two of the 2010 World Series the San Francisco Giants not only shut down the hitting machine that has been the scourge of the American League but clobbered their pitching staff for the second night in a row.

Edgar Renteria hits a 2 RBI single (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Giants’ starter Matt Cain was dominant in the second game of the series while Rangers’ starter C. J. Wilson pitched well but not well enough until handing the game over to the Rangers bullpen which imploded in the 8th inning.  Wilson allowed just two runs on 3 hits, one a costly solo shot with two outs in the bottom of the 5th by Edgar Renteria. Cain on the other hand was masterful getting hitter after hitter out allowing just 4 hits and giving up two walks in 7.2 innings work allowing just 1 hit in 8 attempts by Rangers’ sluggers Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.

The game was a pitcher’s duel with the only mistake being committed by Wilson in the bottom of the 5th inning when he left a fastball in the middle of the plate for Renteria to put into the left field seats to give the Giants a 1-0 lead which it would remain until the bottom of the 7th when the Giants Juan Uribe singled to score Cody Ross who Wilson had walked to lead off the inning.  The walk to Ross was the end for Wilson who ceded the mound to Darren Oliver.  Oliver gave up the single to Uribe and the Giants led 2-0 after 7 innings.

Cain pitched into the 8th inning and after giving up a walk to Elvis Andrus was relieved by Javier Lopez with two outs.  Lopez got Josh Hamilton to fly out to end the Rangers’ half of the 8th inning. In the bottom from it all came apart for the Rangers’ bullpen. Darren O’Day got the first two Giants he faced, Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez out on strikes before giving up a two out single to Buster Posey.  Ron Washington chose not to use Neftali Feliz and instead sent in Derek Holland to relieve O’Day with Nate Schierholtz coming to the plate. Holland walked Schierholtz and followed with a walk to Cody Ross to load the bases and yet another to Aubrey Huff to score Posey.  That walk was enough for Washington who replaced Holland with Mark Lowe.  Lowe walked Juan Uribe to score Schierholtz and then gave up a single to Renteria which scored Ross and Huff.  With the game rapidly slipping away the Rangers reacted to Bruce Bochy sending up Mike Fotenot which Ron Washington countered not with Neftali Feliz but Michael Kirkman and Bochy once again countered with Aaron Rowland instead of Fotenot.  Rowland delivered a triple which scored Uribe and Renteria and then a double to Andres Torres which scored Rowland.  The inning ended with the Giants scoring 7 runs to make the game 9-0.  The Giants put Guillermo Mota into the game and Mota despite allowing a walk put the Rangers away.

It was another stunning blow to the Rangers who now go back to Arlington down 2-0 in the series and seemingly having no answer to Giants hitting or pitching. Matt Cain has not allowed an earned run in 21.1 innings and on Saturday the Rangers will send Colby Lewis against Jonathan Sanchez.  The Giants have done well on the road this post season closing out both Atlanta and Philadelphia in their houses. This could be a tough climb for the Rangers unless they dramatically turn things around.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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So Much for a Pitcher’s Duel Giants down Rangers 11-7 as Cliff Lee is Suddenly Mortal

Freddy Sanchez flying down the baseline, Sanchez had three doubles in Game One of the World Series

Well the promised pitching duel ended as did Cliff Lee’s undefeated record in the playoffs and with it the predictions of almost everyone including me that this would be a close game.  Giants’ starter Tim Lincecum struggled in the early innings giving up a run in the first inning and got out of a bases loaded situation with 1 out when Juan Uribe made a difficult double play at Third Base.  He gave up a second run in the top of the 2nd inning as Cliff Lee helped himself with a double.  The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the 3rd inning when Edgar Renteria reached on an error by Michael Young at 3rd base and Cliff Lee uncharacteristically hit Andres Torres to bring up Freddy Sanchez who doubled to left to score Renteria. Buster Posey singled to score Sanchez to tie the game before Lee recovered his composure to strikeout Pat Burrell and Cody Ross to get out of the inning.

Both pitchers seemed to find their groove until the top of the 5th inning when Cliff Lee was removed rather violently from the pedestal that many sports writers and fans had placed him on. I knew that he was beatable in game 5 of the ALDS when he had to gut out that game against the Rays, he got the win there but had to work hard and only lasted 6 innings. In the bottom half of the 5th in game one of the World Series Lee was shredded by the Giants. After retiring Tim Lincecum he gave a double by Torres and was driven in by Sanchez who hit his third double of the game.  In game one Lee could not get his curve ball over the plate so Giants hitters patiently waited on his fastball and hammered him time and time again. Lee struck out Buster Posey for the second out and it was downhill from there. He then walked Pat Burrell and then gave up an RBI single to Cody Ross. Aubrey Huff followed with an RBI single and Lee was done. Ron Washington trotted out Darren O’Day to face Juan Uribe who hit a towering home run to left center field to clear the bases and make the score 8-2.  Seven runs were charged to Lee, his worst game in his playoff career.  Lincecum then got the first two batters of the 6th inning out striking out both Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz.  He had a 2-0 count on Ian Kinsler but walked him and then gave up a double to his former catcher Benji Molina which scored Kinsler from 1st base and a single to Mike Moreland which hit him in the hamstring for an infield hit. Pinch hitter David Murphy singled to score Molina before Sergio Casilla relieved Lincecum and struck out Elvis Andrus to end the inning with the score 8-4 in favor of the Giants.

The score remained 8-4 until the bottom of the 8th inning when the Giants put another crooked number on the board. Edgar Renteria singled to right and went to second on an error by Vladimir Guerrero. Pinch hitter Travis Ishikawa doubled to score Renteria and the hits kept coming.  Sanchez singled to right scoring Ishikawa and then took 2nd base on another error by Guerrero. Nate Schierholtz singled with two outs to drive in Sanchez to make the score 11-4.  The Rangers came back in the 9th inning scoring three runs off of Giants relievers but could not complete the comeback as Brian Wilson got Ian Kinsler to fly out to end the game.

Rangers’ pitchers Darren O’Day and Cliff Lee after being battered by the Giants for Lee it was his worst outing in the playoffs and his first loss in post-season play

Cliff Lee got the loss, his first of his playoff career as the Giants worked him over good driving him from the game after 4.2 innings hitting him hard, 7 runs (6 earned) on 8 hits forcing him to throw 104 pitches in the effort.  Tim Lincecum got the win going 5.2 innings giving up 4 runs on 8 hits.

Giants’ hitters acted like they were the Rangers blasting 6 doubles and a home run, three of the doubles by Freddy Sanchez, a World Series record.  The Giants also scored 6 of their runs with two outs, excellent production which gave them the victory.  In the end the Giants had 11 runs on 14 hits with two errors to defeat the Rangers who had 7 runs on 11 hits and committed 4 costly errors.  Tonight they meet again with Matt Cain going up against C. J. Wilson.

Until then,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on Baseball and the World Series in a Time of National Turmoil

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”  ~Saul Steinberg

“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987

I’m sitting down watching game one of the World Series and as usual the Giants until the bottom of the 5th inning were playing it close in their unique “tortureball” way that drives Giants fans as well as their opponents absolutely nuts.  Now at the end of the 5th they lead 8-2 after beating up the vaunted Cliff Lee for 7 runs in 4.2 innings pitched.  But that is not the point of this article; it is an article about hope in a time of turmoil.  I could write about the Lord being a hope in time of trouble and that is certainly true but unfortunately so many people are using God as a bludgeon against their political opponents I’m not even going to go there. I figure that the Deity is pretty sick of how he or she gets used by people for their own agendas and although I believe with all of my heart that God is a refuge and help in time of trouble.

As anyone that reads this site on a regular basis knows that I am a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and that baseball is much more than a game to me. Yes I love the details, statistics and nuances of this beautiful game played upon that lovely and lush diamond but the game is much more than that it is the heart and soul of America.  I know that Football is now the most popular sport in the country but it is different, it is a sport of combat, speed and violence a sport which while there are lessons that can be learned from it its’ appeal is to our violent and warlike side.

As John Leonard in the New York Times said back in 1975 “Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.Roger Kahn one of the nation’s most gifted sports writers said “Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.”

I think that this year’s World Series is symbolic of the Spirit of this country where we see two great teams that embody all that is good about this country.  There are the stories of excellence in Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, the stories of second chances and redemption in men like Josh Hamilton and Texas Manger Ron Washington recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol, the stories of players cast off by other teams like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff and the stories of young men like Neftali Feliz, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Elvis Andrus, stories of the eccentric epitomized by Giants closer Brian Wilson, natural born Americans and immigrants and so many other stories. These are stories about us, stories that hearken back to the times when Americans actually believed in a good future and were willing to work with each other despite political differences to make it happen.

The teams were not considered among baseball’s elite at the beginning of the season and neither was picked to win their divisions.  Their payrolls pale in comparison to the Yankees, Phillies and even the Cubs and the Rangers were just rescued from bankruptcy by baseball legend Nolan Ryan.  In a time of recession and uncertainty such teams relate to everyday Americans because they seem to be real, made up of flawed people, people that needed second chances and have triumphed.

Both the Rangers and Giants have special fan bases, the Rangers fans epitomize middle America and the Giants fans, well they are as diverse as the city that their Giants represent.

I agree with Bill “Spaceman Lee” who said “I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Baseball is the bell weather of America and a place that we can all go to if we want.  Thankfully it seems that baseball after the gratuitous excess of the steroids era has recovered itself, maybe we will never get back to nickel beer but we can recover our soul as a nation.

In baseball you have opponents, not enemies and while you play them hard you never dehumanize them.  I think that in the poisonous political and social environment of 2010 where political or ideological opponents are no longer fellow Americans that we may differ with but enemies to be defeated destroyed and trampled under violently if necessary.  In baseball there is a decorum that is seldom breeched but in our society such decorum is sadly lacking and there is blame on all sides of the body politic.

Maybe we can learn something as a nation from this World Series which happens to share the national stage with one of the vilest election seasons that I have ever seen where Republicans and Democrats alike share the blame for the mess that we are in.  Maybe we can learn from the game that was with us during our Civil War, through the Great Depression and World Wars, through the social upheaval of the 1960s and the current wars and worldwide economic crisis that has so severely impacted the people of our country.

For me baseball has been there in good times and bad and in the worst and most desolate time in my life, the two years after I returned from Iraq damaged in mind, body and spirit that diamond was the one place that I could find peace.

Here’s to the Rangers and the Giants, the men and their stories and their fans.  I hope that we all learn something from them this year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction: Tortureball Continues Giants in Seven

We Baseball fans it is that time, time to pick the winner of the World Series.  This series is very interesting because no-one saw this series coming. Perhaps it is the bias of many sports writers to the East Coast that had most predicting a Yankees-Phillies matchup.  Regardless the Rangers and the Giants are in the series and both teams are looking to break long term World Series droughts the Giants going back to 1954 when they were still in New York at the Polo Grounds and the rangers to their establishment in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators.

The teams go into the series with similar regular season records the Rangers finishing the regular season 90-72 and defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the NLDS and the New York Yankees 4-2 in the ALCS to get to the World Series.  The Rangers have some outstanding players the most notable being Cliff Lee (12-9 3.18 ERA) and slugger Josh Hamilton.  They are backed by some other outstanding players such as starting pitcher Tommy Hunter (13-4 3.78 ERA), Shortstop Elvis Andrus and Outfielder Nelson Cruz as well as their young closer Neftali Feliz (4-3 2.37 ERA 40 Saves).   The Rangers had a team batting average of .276 a .338 OBP a .419 SLG and .757 OPS.  The Rangers hit 162 home runs and scored 787 runs in the regular season led by Josh Hamilton who hit .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.  Lead by Cliff Lee the Rangers’ pitching staff had a 3.93 team ERA allowing 636 Earned Runs and 162 Home Runs while giving up 551 Walks, 24 Intentional Walks and striking out 1181.    The Rangers’ pitchers allowed an average 8.4 hits, 1.0 Home Runs, 3.4 Walks and 7.3 Strikeouts per 9 innings. Cliff Lee who dominates other clubs has done so with the Giants in the past but has not faced them this year.  Lee is 3-0 with 1.13 ERA in three career starts against San Francisco while holding Giants to a .159 batting average.  The last time Lee faced the Giants was with the Phillies in 2009 and Cody Ross has had success against Lee. The Rangers committed 105 errors and a .982 fielding percentage.

The Giants finished the season 92-70 and defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the NLDS and the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in the NLCS.  The key to the Giants success has been their pitching which was led by great young starters including two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (16-10 3.43 ERA 231 Ks) as well as the excellent Matt Cain (31-11 3.14 ERA 177 Ks) and Jonathan Sanchez (13-9 3.07 ERA 205Ks) and Rookie Madison Bumgarner (7-6 3.00 87 Ks).  The Giants also have a topflight bullpen which is anchored by closer Brian Wilson (3-3 1.81 ERA and 48 Saves). Their offense has not been their strong suit but on occasion they have had good run production and have managed to get timely hits all through the season to allow them to win many low scoring games which were dominated by Giants pitching. The Giants hit 162 Home Runs, had 687 RBIs and had a team .257 batting average, a .321 OBP, .408 SLG and .729 OPS. Their leading hitter was Aubrey Huff who hit .290 with 26 Home Runs and 86 RBIs and rookie Catcher Buster Posey who was called up from Triple-A Fresno on May 31st and hit .305 with 18 Home Runs and 67 RBIs.  Their pitching staff had a 3.36 team ERA and allowed 546 Earned Runs, 134 Home Runs, 578 walks, 58 Intentional Walks while striking out 1331 batters.  They gave up an average 7.9 hits, 0.8 Home Runs, 3.6 walks and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. In addition the Giants led the National League in fielding allowing only 73 errors for a .988 fielding percentage.

One possibly overlooked statistic is their records against common opponents. They played the Red Sox, Orioles, Cubs Marlins, Astros, Brewers, Athletics, Pirates and Blue Jays. The Rangers went 37 and 30 and a .552 winning percentage. The Giants went 33 and 18 against the same opponents for a .647 winning percentage. The Giants also have the home field advantage, a ballpark that is not a hitter’s park where they had a 49-32 record in 2010. The Giants lead the all-time series against Texas 15-7 and have won last seven meetings (2001-09). The Rangers have lost 11 in a row in San Francisco, where they are 2-12.

I expect this to be a close series and for Giants pitching to do better in shutting down the Rangers than the anemic Yankees’ pitching staff of the Rays especially in San Francisco. I expect Cliff Lee to pitch well but I don’t think that he will be the same factor that he was against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series or the 2010 ALCS. I expect that the Giants will continue to get the key hits and defensive plays coupled with solid pitching in tight games and because of how they have played all year. Add to this the habit of Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy to make the right moves at the right time as he has seemingly done since the beginning of September. The Rangers have not had to face the caliber of pitching that the Giants can throw at them and I believe like Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Both teams have had amazing seasons with tremendous stories of comebacks as well as stories of personal redemption. There is also the story of a band of cast offs, and a pack of eccentric pitchers that do amazing things. Giants win in seven games of Giants’ Baseball, better known as “torture-ball” for their first World Series title since 1954.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Reforming the Church Today Part One: By their Budgets Ye Shall know Them

John Tetzel shook down Germans for Indulgences….Have we learned anything from history?

This is the first in a series of essays on reforming the Church today that will appear on this website

It seems that Christians and especially ministers of all traditions forget the lessons of history.  The church in the United States is at a critical point in history and is fast losing its credibility due to the arrogance and excess of many churches as well as individual clergy in matters related to personal behavior, financial accountability as well as accountability before the law concerning clergy that who have committed grievous crimes against children and others.  Likewise there is the nearly incestuous relationship between many ministers and those holding political and or economic power in which quite often one cannot tell where the “gospel” ends and the politics begin.  This exists in many churches large and small and spans the denominational spectrum not being the sole property of any particular body.  There is also the matter of accountability in which it seems that many churches, ministries and ministers practice a “do as I say, not as I do” lifestyle holding their subordinate clergy as well as parishioners to a higher standard than they practice themselves.

The United States has always had a strong Christian heritage that has impacted its faith as well as its national life.  This is not of itself a bad thing as one looks at how churches and Christian leaders have made an impact that goes beyond them and is beneficial to the nation as a whole.  Some of these achievements include the pressure put on James Madison by Virginia Baptists to ensure a guarantee of religious freedom in the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery the ending of child labor, the Civil Rights movement as well as numerous charitable and public interest oriented ministries to care for society’s most disadvantaged citizens as well as the aliens that have lived among us.  At the same time there were many Christians, churches and ministers that supported slavery, an established state religion, segregation and many other issues.  That being said churches and individual ministers have made a huge contribution to American life and community that cannot be easily dismissed despite the many problems, controversies, and scandals that have surrounded churches of almost all denominations since the founding of the United States.  Religious liberty as well as Christian churches and religion in general has traditionally been seen as a positive rather than a negative aspect of the United States going back to Alexis de Tocqueville in his comments on American democracy.

Clergy have enjoyed a special status in American life that exists in large part due the Bill of Rights and the Jeffersonian understanding of an “eternal wall of separation” between church and state.   This is because clergy were seen as fair arbiters because they were not an appendage of the state as were the clergy of most European states that had established state religion.  Thus the “clericalism” of Europe which was seen as a danger by our Founding Fathers was not a major issue. Yes some of the founders recognized a potential danger but that did not stop Congress from treating clergy and churches favorably in the early years of the republic and worked to ensure that no church became a “State church.”  Over the years since the founding of the United States clergy of many denominations have made many positive contributions to our Nation in both their pastoral and prophetic roles.  At the same time over the years some clergy have attempted to use their status and privileges as an entry into the elite parts of society, especially in the political, government policy and financial realms.

The point to be short is that many clergy in the United States, especially those in influential pulpits and ministries have forgotten the dangers of “clericalism” and the abuses of clerics who use their office as clergy to gain political, financial and personal power.  Jesus told his disciples that they had to be servants and not seek wealth, status or position something that was echoed by the New Testament writers as well as many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

By their budgets ye shall know them….I saw the report of the Reverend Robert Schuler of the “Crystal Cathedral” megachurch which declared bankruptcy last week being $43 Million dollars in debt and embroiled in struggles about Schuler’s successor call for his parishioners to give more money.  He asked “tithers to double tithe” and those that do not tithe to “start tithing.” He talked about what the church has given to them and earned their support. I found this to be a rather pompous plea from a man who has had the ear of Presidents and leaders in the political and business world.  The fact is that Southern California has been terribly hard hit by the economic downturn and recession and that obviously includes many of his parishioners both those that worship at the Cathedral as well as those who what Schuler’s “Hour of Power” show.  The Chrystal Cathedral now has to live “month to month on $2 Million dollars a month” and has cut back staff, curtailed programs and sold property to try to make ends meet. I’m sorry but when you live off of other people’s money you should never build a ministry requiring millions of dollars on the presumption that if you get it wrong that the faithful givers should have to bail you out.  I saw this at a local level a few years back and it all but destroyed the local church and the denomination that church belonged.  I wonder how many more megachurches built on piles of debt are facing what is happening at the Chrystal Cathedral.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Other churches at denominational and local levels have often become embroiled in banking scandals that tarnished the reputation of those churches, their leaders and disillusioned their membership often causing mass defections to other churches or leave the organized church all together.  The Roman Catholic Church had to deal with a major scandal involving the Vatican Bank in the 1970s and 1980s and have recently had other allegations of another potential banking scandal involving the Vatican have surfaced.

By their budgets ye shall know them….I worked for a fairly reputable Television ministry while I was a seminary student. The common plea of these types of ministries is that they “are on a mission from God” well, maybe that is a Blues Brother’s paraphrase but you get my drift. Most are not part of any denominational structure and have little oversight and presume that since someone might watch them that they are entitled to financial support. They do not ask their audience for actual input into their “mission” strategy, they just ask for their audience’s money to do with as they “and as the Lord would have them to do” with it. This of course is not the sole property of television ministries but it occurs in many churches as well.  If someone questions the church and its financial accountability they are accused of “being unfaithful,” “not hearing God,” or being “disobedient to God’s will or to the church.”  Since many churches and ministries suffer a terrible lack of accountability and oversight these abuses are more widespread than we would want to believe. Sometimes it takes personal experience to see this but when one sees it up close and in person the blinders can be removed. In regard to television ministries in particular the amount of money required to keep their programs on the air is beyond exorbitant. It comes often from those that are barely surviving financially even in “good times” and the most desperate of people “believing in God for a miracle” in response to obediently shelling out of their meager incomes to ministries in response to persuasive pleas by ministers that should know better. The motivation, love and obedience of these often wonderful people is exploited in order to support air programs that have little impact on the world despite the boastings of these ministers that they are “fulfilling the great commission.” One has to ask if this is the case why there is so little to be seen in our society as a result of all the money poured into these pricy ministries.

By their budgets ye shall know them….If money was the only thing it would be a manageable problem…. Oh but wait money and power is the root of the problem as the problem extends to lifestyles of ministers and other church leaders which are hardly supported by the demands of the Gospel. It is not uncommon at all to see clergy living off of the offerings of their parishioners live opulent lifestyles and when times get tough demand more money from their flocks rather than amending their own behaviors.  Instead of accountability, repentance and a change in behavior there is a demand for obedience from their flock and if the flock objects they are the ones that are vilified.  This again cuts across denominational lines and includes Protestants and Catholics, those in parish as well as those in parachurch, television and radio ministries. In my old church those clergy who could not meet their tithe for whatever reason were told that they were being “disobedient to their vows” which instead of vows to the Church in regard to orthodoxy as well as orthopraxy were narrowed down to if you were paying your tithe on time. I remember one Bishop who left the church to go elsewhere told the assembled priests in his diocese that the tithe was the “essential test of obedience, and what bound us together.” Families and parishioners of parishes were described by another Bishop as “tithing units” not people and when I was in the reserves contemplating a mission parish start up was told that in order to be “successful” the church needed at least “x-number of tithing units.” Doctrine or even other forms of public witness were secondary to paying the tithe.  That church had many major financial scandals that are well documented elsewhere so I won’t go into detail about them.

By their budgets ye shall know them…. If churches spend more money on the salaries of their pastors than they do on outreach to the poor or missions something is severely out of order, one cannot imagine the Apostles of those Ante-Nicene Fathers who suffered poverty and persecution advocating for what amounts to be an “Imperial” church even those that advocated a firm hierarchy in regard to faith and belief.  When leaders of a church, especially a small church get together and dine in luxury on the monies donated by their often impoverished flocks it shows a tacit denial of the Gospel and lack of respect or care for the people of God.

By their budgets ye shall know them….When church building programs and plant maintenance are extravagant and require massive amounts of money to sustain without demanding more from their parishioners than something is out of kilter.  When chandeliers cost more than a mission budget for the poor something is wrong.  My Church History professor from who I appropriated the “by their budgets ye shall know them” line used to say that “God is going to get us for our stained glass windows when we neglect the poor.”  I love good church architecture including stained glass windows but it is presumptive on God the people of God for churches, ministries and ministers to demand monies when they have failed to play and manage effective especially when in spite of economic indicators they spend like drunken sailors and expect others to pick up the tab while crying crocodile tears about how “God’s plans will be thwarted” if their ministry fails.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Back prior to the Protestant Reformation in Europe there was a large amount of discontent which focused on the arrogance, opulence and financial demands of the Catholic Church.  In fact much of Dr. Martin Luther’s protest in the 95 Thesis dealt with the manner in which the Church used a practice called indulgences and the selling of “relics” to fund the construction of St Peters Basilica in Rome.  In people gave because they believed men like John Tetzel who preached in regard to indulgences “a penny into the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.”  Of course there was the manner that the Church also used its power to reward or punish rulers which was also part of the problem but the complaint of many reformers was often directly related to the Churches’ financial as well as political abuses of its members and nations to buttress its position in Europe.  Unfortunately I do not think that we have learned this lesson and that Churches and ministries in the United States are losing membership and the trend is that people are opting for individual expressions of faith rather than become a part of institutions that they feel are out of touch with real people.  I believe that if things do not change there will be a mass exodus from many churches and religious institutions because of the odious nature of the financial dealings and pressure put on people to support questionable programs and lavish lifestyles.

By their budgets ye shall know them….There are honest and hard working ministers and churches that emphasize ministry and care for people as part of the Gospel message.  Many are foreign missionaries that eke out support while working full time in “tentmaker” professions in order to fund their missions without unduly burdening those that support them.  I know many people like this and for them whether they be working in foreign missions or caring for the poor at home live the Gospel in word and deed and nothing in this essay should be construed to be against such people or their missions.  I may disagree with someone’s theology but when I see them demonstrate humility and the love of God in all that they do I can only commend them.

You see my friends and readers my experience leads me to believe that people are still searching for authentic faith and spirituality and have not necessarily given up on orthodox Christian beliefs.  The problem is they are finding little of substance in many churches and other religious institutions. Novelist and write Anne Rice recently did this, leaving “Christianity” but not Christ and I fully understand her reasoning for doing so.

Martin Luther and the 95 Thesis: What if the Church had listened to him rather than branding him as a heretic and criminal?

Some will say that by writing this that I am “causing division in the Church” or the more pious “causing division in the body of Christ.”  However that is a red herring argument that attempts to divert attention from the real problem. If the Church and I mean across denominations not any particular body fails to reform itself it will fall on its own and fall hard and in the process harm the faith of many people. Churches which have to defend the indefensible to “retain unity” are those that are in schism from Christ, not those that raise issues that the society at large recognizes but church and religious leaders seem incapable of admitting. The Church must reform and a big part of that in the United States involves how we deal with wealth. By their budgets ye shall know them.

This essay will be continued as I move to the next segment which will be about the incestuous relationship between many ministers and those of the political and financial elites.  I’m sure that I will come up with a catch title for that essay but need to ruminate some more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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