Monthly Archives: October 2012

By Their Budgets Ye Shall Know Them: A Reformation Day Reflection

“Lastly, works of piety and charity are infinitely better than indulgences, and yet they do not preach these with such display or so much zeal; nay, they keep silence about them for the sake of preaching pardons. And yet it is the first and sole duty of all bishops, that the people should learn the Gospel and Christian charity: for Christ nowhere commands that indulgences should be preached. What a dreadful thing it is then, what peril to a bishop, if, while the Gospel is passed over in silence, he permits nothing but the noisy outcry of indulgences to be spread among his people, and bestows more care on these than on the Gospel!” Martin Luther (Introductory Letter To The 95 Theses)

Back on October 31st 1517 a little known Monk and Professor of Theology and Bible at the University of Wittenberg proposed a theological debate regarding a practice called “Indulgences” where preachers from Rome came up to Germany and basically shook down the population for donations to help built the now majestic Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. Promises of spiritual blessings, to include time out of Purgatory for those that donated had an affect on German churches and the local political leaders.

What happened that day in Wittenberg was one of the most monumental events in Christian and Western History.

However, 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 tried to live “month to month on $2 Million dollars a month” 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 happened at the Chrystal Cathedral. The Church Campus was sold to the local Roman Catholic Diocese.

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: If a ministry spends the bulk of its time and money working as surrogates for a political candidate or party it is highly likely that it has forgotten the basic mission of the Church as I can’t remember anything in the New Testament even remotely suggests we do this nor can a single time in Church history that it turned out well for the church, or for regular people in general.

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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Aftermath: Sandy Spreads Destruction along East Coast

Destruction in Atlantic City NJ

Sandy is still bringing destruction to much of the Northeast and the damage to areas affected is still being assessed. As of this evening close to 8 million Americans are without power, many more now homeless and much property and infrastructure is destroyed. At least 50 people are known dead in the United States. Over 16,000 airline flights have been cancelled leaving people stranded not just in New York and the Northeast but around the world. Estimates of the damage are just beginning but the costs to Americans could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Tens of millions of lives have been affected by the storm. The fact that some of the most high density populations and vulnerable populations in the country and the seat of corporate America  will make Sandy one of the most destructive and expensive storms ever to hit the United States.

Massive flooding, devastation, power outages and millions of people cut off from transportation and communications. Subways, airports, ports and tunnels are flooded, water and sewage systems are heavily damaged and millions of people are at risk and winter is coming.  The area hit is the most populous in the country and what happens there affects all of us.

Less affected states are sending help to New York and New Jersey which have been the hardest hit areas.

La Guardia Airport

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has impressed me. His words to those that want to make this a political carnival were something that I admire. I don’t always agree with Governor Christie but the man is real. Christie has been one of the most aggressive Romney surrogates in the past few weeks and was the keynote speaker at the RNC. However, unlike some he is not simply a political hack. He actually seems to care about the people of his state and recognizes the necessity of Federal Government assistance. Likewise he seems to be able to separate political expediency for real life real time honesty. When interviewed by Fox and Friends host Steve Doocey this morning Christie was in rare form.

It started when Steve Doocy said, “Over the last couple of months, you have appeared throughout the country, Governor, on behalf of Mitt Romney… (W)e hear that perhaps Mr. Romney may do some storm-related events. Is there any possibility that Gov. Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?”

Christie answered: “ have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.”

First responders have done heroic things and the overwhelmed cities and states have requested Federal assistance, assistance that some on the political right say is either unnecessary, not the responsibility of the Federal Government or “better done by the private sector” are loathe to support, unless the disaster occurs in their neighborhood.  President Obama commented Monday when asked about how Sandy might impact the election:  “The election will take care of itself next week.  Right now, our number-one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”

Obama will meet with Governor Christie in Newark Wednesday. The two leaders will see the destruction and work together to help the people that need help. That is what America is about.

This is massive damage and will be take a long term effort to recover. This is an American disaster, it affects us all in some way. The most affected are those directly impacted by the storm but if we do not act together it is a storm that could cripple the nation as much of our economy and commerce is centered in the epicenter of where Sandy hit so hard. It requires that Americans band together to help other Americans. It requires that we as a people finally stop the political fratricide and actually become Americans again.

Pray and help as you can. One can donate to the American Red Cross through this link:

http://www.redcross.org/support

The Salvation Army Disaster relief link for Hurricane Sandy donations is here: http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf

There are other groups that provide help and support as well, but those are two that I have donated to in the past and will do so again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Massive and Deadly “Freak” Storm: Sandy Hits the USA

Sandy

I have been through quite a few hurricanes in my life and Sandy was just a glancing blow for us in North Carolina. My wife in Virginia Beach Virginia says that for once due to the storm sewers being cleaned out recently that our neighborhood is not flooded. However I have a lot of friends in the Northeast in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC who are being hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Lower Manhattan flooding (top) and Atlantic City NJ Boardwalk 

Sandy came ashore this evening making a direct hit on the coast of New Jersey. The storm is setting records. It is the most powerful Hurricane to go this far north since the Long Island Express of 1938. The barometric pressure is quite low, 947 millibars as it came ashore, and lower than that this morning. In size it is immense nearly 1000 miles in diameter affecting most of the East Coast from the Carolinas north. Storm surge is setting records and many cities along the coast are flooding.

 

 

 

Hoboken NJ PATH station (top) and Randolph County West Virginia 

The human and economic impacts will be enormous. Power has gone out for millions and it is expected that 10-20 million people could be without power for some time. Reports are that the subways of New York are beginning to flood. There is a danger that other infrastructure damage, including damage to banking and financial institutions could extend the suffering for a prolonged period of time and to people not in the path of the storm. The fact that Sandy has combined with a winter storm has made it much worse. The storm is causing blizzards in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. This is a major disaster in the making.

The Tomb of the Unkowns

First responders as always will take a good share of the initial hit from the storm, but it will be up to others at the State and Federal level as well as NGOs and individuals to respond. As of now National Guard Units and elements the Active Duty Forces under the the Command of USNORTHCOM and FEMA are preparing to move to assist. However, the effects of the storm damage will take the efforts of all of us to get through.

The Point Emerald Island North Carolina

For those who have never been a first responder or have been impacted by a massive natural disaster that overwhelms local and state agencies this may be a foreign concept. However having been a first responder who has also dealt with the theoretical aspects of disaster response in military and FEMA courses I know that within 24-36 hours most local first responders and agencies are spend rounds, they are as much victims as the people that they try to assist.

Katrina victims

As Americans our lives and livelihoods are so closely intertwined with each other and what happens in different parts of the country and world it is impossible for a single State or region to bear the brunt of such disasters as Katrina or Sandy by themselves. The response must go beyond attempts to capitalize on the disaster for political purposes to actually being a nation again. The people being affected by Sandy are not strangers. They are friends, family and fellow Americans.

For the moment the Presidential campaigns have ceased campaigning, although pundits and political flacks on both sides of our political chasm are still acting as if Sandy is simply another political event. Personally I think that people like that have lost something of their humanity. This is not about a political agenda, it is about our friends, family and fellow Americans being slammed with a natural disaster that we have not seen the likes of in years.

I have friends in all the sates affected. They span the political and religious spectrum and all are in harms way tonight and in the next few days and all stand the chance of losing life, home or health as a result of this storm.

 

Please pray for these people, our families, friends, neighbors and fellow Americans during this time.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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SWEEP! GIANTS WIN SERIES!

Buster Posey Homers for the Giants (AP Photo David J Phillip)

“It was freaky. I would’ve never guessed it…It turned out to be no contest…” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland 

The San Francisco Giants have one their second World Series title since 2010 defeating the Detroit Tigers in 10 innings on Sunday night. Matt Cain and Max Scherzer were both good and the game was tied in the 6th inning 3-3 both starters going 7 innings. Then the bullpens went to work. Jeremy Affeldt struck out the heart of the order in the 8th and he and Sergio Casilla shut down the Tigers in the 9th while Phil Coke held the Giants.

Marco Scutero after his game winning hit in the top of the 10th (Reuters Photo Mark Blinch)

The game went to extra innings and the Giants struck. Ryan Theriot, the designated hitter singled. He advanced on a sacrifice bunt and with two outs was driven in by another hit by NLCS MVP Marco Scutero.

Sergio Romo came out in the 10th and struck out Austin Jackson and Dave Kelly. With two outs Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera came up against Romo. Romo struck Cabrera out making on a called third strike.

It was a Series that no one saw coming. The Tigers had pitching and hitting but the Giants who had come back against the Reds and the Cardinals in the NLDS and NLCS when facing elimination game after game only trailed once during this series. Giants pitchers shut down the fearsome Tiger offense and Giants hitters did what they needed to do to win games when they counted.

Pablo Sandoval who hit three home runs in game one and batted .500 in the series.

Don’t Stop Believing: Giants Celebrate (AP Photo Paul Sancya)

It is hard to believe. The Giants have had the classic Journey song Don’t Stop Believing as their theme all season and it is still hard to believe. Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy said that what made this team so special was how they played as a team and laid down their own individual agendas to win all season long.

Maybe all Americans can learn from that. But then I’m sure that there some nutcase will say that it’s socialist to think that way. But we don’t do it alone. The Giants players know that. It is so good to see, and as a Giants fan it is great.

For the Tigers it was a disappointing end to a season where they played well to come back to win the AL Central in the last week of the season and then swept the Yankees in the ALCS.

Congratulations to an inspirational and talented team that no one expected to do this. Unlikely heroes, comeback stories that played as a real team, the best team in baseball. The exemplified what Babe Ruth said about baseball and being a team so long ago: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” The Giants played as a team, they may not have had all the best players or the biggest payroll but they had the best team in the game. 

Now I’m going to have to see what I can do to avoid the political negativity for the next 8 days. Sounds like I need to put on my Boston Legal DVDs or buy a couple seasons of South Park tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Run Padre Run: Peace after the Storm

Today was a day of recuperation from a long couple of weeks of which yesterday was hard after being victimized by a larceny at work. Today despite carrying the duty pager, has been as close to a day off as I have had in a couple of weeks.

After watching the ball game last night knowing that I was carrying the duty pager today I decided to sleep as late as my body and my dog Molly would let me. Not that she was in the mood to get out either since we were being pounded by tropical storm force winds and heavy rain. She is not a fan of rain.

Since I didn’t have any pages from work I got up about noon, yes noon, I needed it as evidently Molly did too. So have I took her on a walk I decided to take a tip to see how our town had weathered the storm. It was not bad and I took Molly to the beach to check things out. Since things didn’t look bad and the weather reports showed the rain ending I decided to go for a run about 3PM after I had celebrated Eucharist. It turned into a Forrest Gump run.

Initially I planned on doing about 4-5 miles. When I got to the beach I decided to take a right and head southwest toward the end of the island which is called “the Point.” At the 2 mile point I felt good so I kept going and had to turn into the wind which was blowing at about 30-40 MPH from the north for about a mile. I had forgotten what it was like to run into a wind like that, at times I felt like I was standing still. Things got better when I turned around and rediscovered the advantages of a strong tailwind. Out at the point sand was racing along the beach faster than me blown by the stiff wind and I was glad that I had long running pants on rather than shorts.

Very few people were out today although a few hearty souls were out looking for shells or in some cases had metal detectors out. I got up to the beach entrance where I live and still felt good and wanted to do more even though I knew that if I went straight home it would be a nice 6 mile run. However I could see the Bogue Banks Fishing Pier in the distance. I had always wanted to do the whole beach and since I still felt good I kept running. Last week I had ran the furthest I had in a long time when I did 7.1 miles, out to the Point and then up the beach a bit. I figured that I could do 7 miles and then it was 8 and I went under the pier and kept going about another quarter mile. I thought of going further but since conditions were beginning to deteriorate I decided to turn back. I ran into some more wind on the way back but I finished the run. I wasn’t fast, the combination of wind and occasionally soft sand slowed me down but it was nice, a bit under 2 hours for the 11.2 miles, about 5.6 miles an hour. The was really slow from about the 8th mile I figure I was doing about 6.5 miles an hour before I hit the pier.

Regardless it was a good feeling to finish and know that I am in about good enough shape that I could do a half-marathon again. At 52 years old I don’t need to be fast, but just to know that I can do it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Tomorrow it will be back to my weekday circuit training when I do lots of push-ups of various types, crunches and abdominal exercises between laps of 1/3 of a mile for an hour or so. It will still be windy and it looks like that the nights are going to be the coldest that we have had since last winter. But at least we are not in the direct path of Sandy. I have been through a good number of hurricanes and tropical storms, all in the summer when the temperatures were warm, I would not want to take one like Sandy especially with a winter storm bearing in as well. Somehow flooding, cold weather and snow combined with power outages does not seem fun.

Today was interesting because usually some song from the 1970s will be going through my head as I run. Last week it was Bob Seeger’s Against the Wind  the day before it was Linda Ronstadt’s You’re no Good, today it was Rod Stewart’s Do you think I’m Sexy. Sometimes it is Abba, Blondie or Doctor Hook. It is not like I plan on my internal I-Pod to play these songs, but it is what it is.

Now it is time to settle in and see what happens in the World Series. I am hoping for the sweep but if the Giants do win I wonder how many South Park seasons I can watch between now and the election.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Giants Down Tigers: Take 3-0 Lead in Series

Hunter Pence Scores in Game 3 (SF Chronicle- Lance Iverson)

This was not the way anyone thought that this series would go. Detroit’s hitters would feast on Giants pitching that had not been as dominant as it has in years past and the weak hitting Giants would knuckled under beneath the Tigers’ starting pitching.

Barry Zito (AP Photo: David J Phillip) 

The Freak in Relief: Tim Lincecum (Getty Images: Doug Pensinger)

Sergio Romo (USA Today Photo: Kelley L Cox)

Madison Bumgarner (Sacramento Bee Photo)

The Journeyman: Ryan Vogelsong 15 Teams in 14 Years (SF Chronicle- Lance Iverson)

No one expected that the Giants would score 8 runs in game, plastering Justin Verlander or that Barry Zito would dominate. Nor did anyone think that Madison Bumgarner who had struggled in the playoffs would do the same. Then there was Tim Lincecum coming out of the bullpen to dominate the mid to late innings when needed, finally Ryan Vogelsong pitched his way out of trouble on a number of occasions to get the win in Game 3. No one expected that the Tigers could not beat a Giants team that only scored 2 runs each in Game 2 and Game 3, but they were shut out in those games. The Giants have held the Tigers to just 7 hits in the last 18 innings and just one extra base hit, that in the first inning of Game 2. Sergio Romo has come into his own in the closer role getting saves in each of the last two games.

The Panda, Pablo Sandoval Goes Deep in Game One (AP Photo: David J Phillip)

The Giants pitching has been superb but then there is the Panda. Pablo Sandoval who is hitting .636 with three home runs in the World Series and has 23 hits in the post season including 6 home runs and 5 doubles and 13 RBI. Other Giants have come up when they needed to in clutch situations but the Panda has been outstanding at the plate and at 3rd base.

Gregor Blanco (AP Photo)

Buster Posey Tags out Prince Fielder on a key play in the 2nd inning of Game 2 (AP Photo David J Phillip)

Then there are the fundamentals. Defense, small ball and base running. The Giants have done both well, only one error in the first three games that almost was an out. Gregor Blanco in Left Field has had an amazing defensive series robbing Detroit hitters of what looked to be sure hits at key junctures.

So the Giants now stand one victory away from their second World Series title since 2010.  No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the World Series. Yes anything can happen in baseball and the Tigers are an excellent team, but right now they seem totally out of sync at the plate and could not support excellent outings by Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez.

Sunday Matt Cain will face Max Scherzer in Game 4. Cain won Game 5 in the NLDS against the Reds and Game 7 against the Cardinals in the NLCS. The possibility of a sweep looms large, something that if it does happen that no one saw coming.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Stormy Weekend: Hurricane Sandy, a Larceny and a World Series Game

Sandy Hits the Emerald Island Fishing Pier

Today was one of those days… a working weekend that ended up with a storm and being ripped off by someone other than a professional politician or financier.

This morning I went in early to be present during a training session that was mandatory for our junior enlisted personnel. That, though it forced me out of bed earlier than I would normally be on a soggy windy day when travel was not advised the training was good and I got to see a bunch of our sailors as well as leaders who were there as well.

Since the weather was bad I decided to do my PT session in our little hospital gym. Since I was the only person that I saw around I decided to leave my backpack which has accompanied me everywhere since I went to Jordan before I went to Iraq in 2007 and my change of clothes in the locker room since it wouldn’t fit well in my locker. I worked out for an hour and when I returned it was gone. I had to make a police report and on Monday the hospital communications staff will be able to review the security cameras. The sad thing is that being a weekend and in an area not frequented by hospital visitors the criminal was most likely as sailor. In the military where trust is essential for Sailors, Marines, Airmen or Soldiers to steal from one another. It is betrayal of trust and I do hope for his sake that he decides to turn in the pack. It is not so much what was in it, I had my civilian clothes including my Orioles windbreaker, my Orioles Batting Practice hat, an Orioles long sleeve t-shirt, a pair of cargo shorts, a pair of Sperry Topsiders, a notebook and some underwear but nothing else of any value (my wallet, phone and car keys were with me in the gym).  I can replace all the clothes. But I really don’t want to have to go through the trouble of seeing a career destroyed for something so stupid as this. There was not much traffic and whoever did this had to go out the doors with the cameras.  Actually all that I really care about is the pack as it is like a security blanket for me, much more valuable than anything in it. If I found the pack outside my office door on Monday I would not pursue charges. Like I said I have far better things to do with my time. Hopefully it even could be a redemptive encounter.

After getting back from the base and taking Molly for a drag through the rain I went to the grocery store, picked up a few things and then to a local restaurant’s bar where I had my usual salad and beer and enjoyed visiting a couple of the regulars and the bar tenders. That was a good thing and took some of the edge off of what I was feeling about the pack.

After that I went down to take a look at Tropical Storm/ Hurricane/ Frankenstorm/ Nor’Easter/ Noricane (I made the last one up) Sandy. I got some great pictures and then went home to watch Game 3 of the World Series, which the Giants lead 2-0 right now going to the 5th inning.

So Molly is passed out, it is raining hard, the ball game is on and I am done and since I have taken the duty pager for tomorrow from one of my other chaplains I will finish for now. I will probably write something about the ballgame later tonight or tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Radicalism and the Hatred of Creation

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This article is actually a re-posting of an article that I wrote almost two years ago. I find that in light of some of the themes brought up by the most “radical” Christians who have sold their souls to a political party and candidate that just a few months ago that they at best felt was a religious cultist in order to regain political power that it is high time to talk about the roots of this radical and frankly un-Christian and for that matter un-American view of faith and politics. So without more commentary here is the rest of the article:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up in an era of world war, the collapse of Empires and social order, economic collapse, revolutions and the rise of the greatest evils that the world has ever seen. Bonhoeffer recognized evil in the world and the dangers of radicalism. He was a child when the First World War ended and the Kaiser abdicated and Germany went through a violent civil war, the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, economic calamity, Communist and Fascist coup attempts which finally led to the Nazi takeover by legal means. When the Nazis came to power Bonhoeffer was a young pastor.  He was one of the first to recognize the evil of the Nazi state and Nazism as well as its hold over Christians from all denominations.

We live in somewhat similar times. These are unsettled and great evil exists, evil which seeks to destroy the world in order to make it in its own image.  Some of these are godless, materialist and secular while others are rooted in the Great Religions as well as others in mysticism and individualistic spirituality all of which see the world and for that matter humanity, especially those that are not like them as the enemy. We are well acquainted with the extremism associated with Islamic terrorism as well as that of others with more politically based ideologies which have committed murder on a massive scale and wherever they rule oppress their own people, however Christians are not immune to radicalism usually radicalism in what they see as a godly response to the evils of their time. Bonhoeffer saw the danger of Christians who become radicalized in relationship to how such radicalization stands in antithesis to the Gospel which in restoring fallen humanity to relationship with Christ commands that those that have been reconciled to him has now “given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2nd Corinthians 5:18b-21

Bonhoeffer penned this from inside a Nazi prison awaiting his execution.

“Radicalism always springs from a conscious or unconscious hatred of what is established. Christian radicalism, no matter whether it consists in withdrawing from the world or in improving the world, arises from the hatred of creation. The radical cannot forgive God his creation. He has fallen out with the created world, the Ivan Karamazov, who at the same time makes the figure of the radical Jesus in the image of the Grand Inquisitor. When evil becomes powerful in the world, it infects the Christian, too, with the poison of radicalism. It is Christ’s gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted to be a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion and contempt for men and the world. In place of the love that believes all and hopes all, in the place of the love which loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), there is now the pharisaical denial of love to evil, and the restriction of love to the closed circle of the devout. Instead of the open Church of Jesus Christ which serves the world till the end, there is now some allegedly primitive Christian ideal of a Church, which in its turn confuses the ideal of the living Jesus Christ with the realization of a Christian ideal. Thus a world which is evil succeeds in making the Christians become evil too. It is the same germ that disintegrates the world and that makes the Christians become radical. In both cases it is hatred towards the world, no matter whether the haters are the ungodly or the godly. On both sides it is a refusal of faith in the creation. But devils are not cast out through Beelzebub.” (Letters and Papers from Prison p.386)

This Christian radicalism has become a very real part of the American religious-political landscape and it has managed to poison a generation through the Dominionism. The man who can be called the founder of this movement which has become one of the loudest voices in American Evangelicalism, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement and other Christian groups spanning the denominational spectrum is R.J. Rushdoonny.  Rushdoony’s version of the Christian faith is an Old Testament militancy based upon Israel’s conquest of the Land of Promise. Some examples of Rushdoony’s theological argument which is echoed by many American Christian conservatives are found here:

Israel was attacked by Amalek. According to Deuteronomy 25:17, Amalek “feared not God.” Amalek’s attack on Israel, according to the “Midrashic lore,” was an obscene defiance of God and a contempt for God. Where men attack God’s people, there we often have a covert or overt attack on God. Unable to strike directly at God, they strike at God’s people. There is thus continual warfare between Amalek and Israel, between God’s people and God’s enemies. The outcome must be the blotting out of God’s enemies…. the covenant people must wage war against the enemies of God, because this war is unto death. The deliberate, refined, and obscene violence of the anti-God forces permits no quarter… this warfare must continue until the Amalekites of the world are blotted out, until God’s law-order prevails and His justice reigns.” R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 318.

Rushdoony’s son in law Gary North is now the primary ideological and theological spokesman for the Dominionist movement. He is very popular and influential in many conservative and political circles and with the Tea Party movement. North makes the following comment in relation to the Christian’s relationship and attitude when dealing with the world.

“It occurs to me: Was Moses arrogant and unbiblical when he instructed the Israelites to kill every Canaanite in the land (Deut. 7:2; 20:16-17)? Was he an “elitist” or (horror of horrors) a racist? No; he was a God-fearing man who sought to obey God, who commanded them to kill them all. It sounds like a “superior attitude” to me. Of course, Christians have been given no comparable military command in New Testament times, but I am trying to deal with the attitude of superiority–a superiority based on our possession of the law of God. That attitude is something Christians must have when dealing with all pagans. God has given us the tools of dominion.” Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), p. 214n

This militancy has gained popular support since the 2008 and 2010 elections and is reflective of the bitter and angry undercurrent which pervades many Christian political activists many of whom are very comfortable with using violence against those that they believe are their enemies. A similar tenor is found in some of their opponents on the Left who speak of bloodshed.

However such words and actions often mirror those of their proclaimed enemies the radicals of which use similar words of violence and justification of brute force to achieve their goals. Those who do not agree with such theology or ideology be that from those in the Dominionist movement or the more radical leftists are as much of an enemy as anyone else. Neither side will stop until they conquer and destroy every bastion of the other. The war between the “godless and the godly” to quote Bonhoeffer is actual a war against the creation and humanity that God through Christ seeks to redeem.

Bonhoeffer made a very poignant observation:

“There is a truth which is of Satan. Its essence is that under the semblance of truth it denies everything that is real. It lives upon the hatred of the real and the world which is created and loved by God. It pretends to be executing the judgment of God upon the fall of the real. God’s truth judges created things out of love. And Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred. God’s truth has become flesh in the world and is alive in the real, but Satan’s truth is the death of all reality.” Bonhoeffer Ethics p. 366

As I look around and see the great conflict in our country with two sides determined to win at any cost and demonize any contrary opinion and fear for what will overtake us as the Satanic truth proclaimed from all sides of the political and religious spectrum consumes the land. In the midst of such discourse which is trending toward physical violence as the extremes battle for power the Church and Christians are commanded to demonstrate the love of God to all people no matter how vile their outbursts or prejudice. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians “God has entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to us.” It is this reconciliation of the real Incarnate Jesus Christ that must be made present in the midst of the current darkness. Christian radicalism is as poisonous as godless radicalism and it has no answers. It is time to cast it aside.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Don’t Want No Losers: The Church of Closed Doors

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

Back in 1976 a Christian rock group called Daniel Amos from Calvary Chapel released a little song called Losers and Winners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J520qyIUHME which when you come to think of it is one of the most amazingly theologically correct songs ever written. Back then I had the album that it came on both on LP and 8 Track. Thankfully I was able to get a CD of it a few years ago.

The song has come back to me in a big way during the past few weeks as I have watched Christian leaders, especially those of the more conservative Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches go into political overdrive in support of the rich, the powerful and the privileged and support a worldview more based in the crass materialism and atheism of Ayn Rand than the words of Jesus.

Of course back then the song went pretty much unnoticed outside of the few that really liked the less than conventional message of this group, which coincidently is still around.

The song really is amazing because the song is more true to the Gospel so much of what is called “Christian” now, especially some of the “praise” songs that preach the militant and often hateful theology of Dominionism.

I spend many years in churches and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me I have never really been in the “in crowd.” Now that I am older I really don’t want to be in the “in crowd” if it means being less than Christian in the way that I get there.

For me church is not a place to enhance my social status, nor is it a place simply to network or a place that I can use to enhance my political or social agendas. It is simple a place where believers gather to worship as well as share the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a place of refuge for all people, but especially for the wounded, the outcast and the broken.  Likewise it is a place that even unbelievers can come and be welcomed without prejudice. Didn’t Jesus say “come to me you who are weary and bear heavy burdens and I will give you rest?”

To me the church is not about being the political platform of any party or political leader, but being the redemptive voice of Jesus the Christ to a broken world.

Unfortunately now the church is viewed more for what it is against and who it rejects rather than the one who calls the broken, who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a flickering flame.

Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else

As a result people are fleeing the church or if they were not a part of the church simply turning their back on it. The “Nones” or those with no religious preference are the fastest growing segment of American faith and religion.

The message that the church is actually teaching is a diametric opposite of the early church. It is obsessed with its own power, privileges and pre-eminence.  It is as if our message is something like this: We welcome you to church…If you look like us, if you hold similar political views, if you have money, if you are attractive, if your presence will benefit us… Our doors are open to you if you fit the criteria that we decide and unless you are like us, agree with us or are not of a group of people that we have determined cannot enter heaven you are welcome.

Another verse of Losers and Winners says:

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose

That is not just me talking but it is what polls published by the Evangelical Christian Barna Group attest. The terms used to describe Christianity are: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds.

The fact is that our obnoxious, arrogant, materialistic political and theologically insipid version of Christianity is causing great harm both inside and outside the church. It is not redemptive it is selfish and power hungry. It is not open, it is closed. We are losing our young people and those outside the church don’t want any part of us. Can you blame them? I don’t.

The funny thing is the long haired, Jesus people musicians of Daniel Amos figured this out close to 40 years ago. But then maybe they read and took seriously the message of Jesus. Maybe we should as well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Start by Prosecuting Me: A Challenge to the Drumhead Justice of World Net Daily’s Erik Rush and Joseph Farrah

Few things work me up more than those that seek to find “legal and constitutional” means of silencing dissent. The Nazis were great at using the Weimar Constitution to silence, prosecute, jail and finally kill their opponents.

I never thought I would see Americans who allegedly are Christians seek to find ways to interpret the Constitution of this country in ways that would silence and deny legal and constitutional rights to those that they disagree.

I am reminded of the words of Patrick Stuart playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation. In one episode called The Drumhead Picard makes the following observation after he has been brought to trial by justice gone mad.

“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged.

Although fictional the words are more than true. In a column today Erick Rush a columnist for Joseph Farrah’s wonderful pile of cyber rubbish World Net Daily proposed a way to forge those links.

“Those whose speech and actions impinge upon the God-given rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution are, by definition, excepted from protection under the First Amendment (as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment). This is a very important concept to consider, because it is based on these presumptions of protected speech and equal protection for all that progressives and socialists have engaged in their predation upon our liberties.

If these truths can be acknowledged and widely accepted as such (as opposed to progressives’ Orwellian interpretations), then the political disenfranchisement of liberals, progressives, socialists and Marxists can begin in earnest, and in the open.” Erik Rush World Net Daily http://www.wnd.com/2012/10/how-to-disarm-the-mainstream-media/

Rush and Farrah and the World Net Daily site are incredibly popular among many of the supposedly “Christian Right” and a bastion of conspiracy theorists and proponents of a Christian Theocracy.

What is written above are the last two paragraphs of Rush’s latest article which deals with ways to silence the “mainstream media” or for that matter anyone that disagrees with his or the editors of World Net Daily’s ideas of what the framers of the Constitution and writers of the Declaration of Independence believed.

To cut to the chase here. Rush and many others believe that unless someone agrees with their interpretation of history and the Constitution that they “are excepted from protection under the First Amendment.” He further argues that if his view of the Constitution or “these truths” can “be acknowledged and widely accepted….then the political disenfranchisement of liberals, progressives, socialists and Marxists can begin in the earnest and in the open.”

Rush and people like him really have no clue. If the government can silence one group it can silence another. The same propositions that Rush and those like him can be used against them, and in other countries where “Christians” or those of other religions that desire theocratic states can be, has been and is being used against dissenting minorities including Christians.

For my conservative Christian readers and friends just imagine if a liberal wrote something like “be acknowledged and widely accepted….then the political disenfranchisement of conservatives, Libertarians or Christians can begin in earnest and in the open.” How would you respond? Civil and religious liberties are a two way street.

As a career military man, historian priest and theologian who has served combat tours and seen results of the oppression and hatred generated by those that promote their religion and rights above those that they disagree I dare say that you do not represent the ideals of the founders of the this country. You represent the tyranny that was best exemplified by the leaders of the European State religions that our founders fled.

I am sorry that most of your readers can’t and won’t see this. But you are no better and little different than the Taliban or the Shi’a and Sunni Terrorists that held Iraq in tyranny and that killed many American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen.  You are religious bigots that label anyone that does not agree with you are heretics and unbelievers who have no rights to anything. If you find that offensive that’s just too bad. deal with it.

I have had to deal with the hatred and rejection of supposed followers of Christ for a while now and  I figure if you and people like you ever get their way that even though I am small I will be a target.

So go ahead Mr. Rush and Mr. Farrah, you don’t need to start with the mainstream media, start with bloggers like me. We’re small, we don’t have multitudes of lawyers of money.  However, unlike either of you I have spent my life serving this country and going into harm’s way so you can have a soapbox to preach on. From your biographies I know that you and the vast majority of your writers and columnists have not have not served a day in uniform or risked anything for this country. So I dare you to start with me. I will fight you until I draw my last breath.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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