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My Faith: A Journey and Mission

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today I am writing because a couple of days ago I celebrated the nineteenth anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. Likewise, I have a lot of new readers and subscribers to the site, as well as a lot of Twitter followers who maybe see the title of the page and wonder want I am about. So this is kind of an introduction to me and my faith journey, kind of how I view life. Paul Tillich once said, “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” Truthfully I have in large part adopted that as a model for life and faith as a rather miscreant priest, in large part because so many Christians, especially clergy seem too busy prattling on about programs, policies, politics and seem not to understand that most people, just want a listening ear, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

My experience of the Church is profoundly influenced by my life in the nether world of the military culture. My world view is shaped by a blending of various Christian traditions, mutual support and collaboration among believers of often radically different points of view. Because of the love, care and mentoring of people from a blend of different traditions I came to know God and survived a tumultuous childhood with many moves.

As a historian I have been blessed to study church history from the early Church Fathers to the present. As I look to church history I find inspiration in many parts of the Christian tradition. In fact rather being threatened by them I have become appreciative of their distinctiveness. I think that there is a beauty in liturgy and stability in the councils and creeds of the Church. At the same time the prophetic voice of evangelical preaching shapes me, especially the message of freedom and tolerance embodied in the lives and sacrifice of men like John Leland, the American Baptist who helped pioneer the concept of Freedom of Religion established in the Constitution of the United States, of William Wilberforce who labored to end slavery in England and, Martin Luther King Jr. who led the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise that prophetic message of the faith is demonstrated in the ministry, writing and martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries Martin Niemoller and Jesuit priest Father Rupert Meyer. All three resisted and preached against the evils of Nazism. In a more contemporary setting I am inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu who helped topple apartheid in South Africa.

Women like Teresa of Avila and St Catherine show me that women have a legitimate place of ministry and leadership in the Church. I am convinced through my study of Church history, theology and a deep belief in the power of the Holy Spirit that women can and should serve as Priests and Bishops in the church.

My theology has shaped by the writings of Hans Kung, Yves Congar, Jurgen Moltmann, Andrew Greeley, and Henry Nouwen. I’ve been challenged by St Francis of Assissi, John Wesley and Martin Luther. I am especially inspired by Pope John XXIII whose vision brought about the Second Vatican Council and I am inspired by Pope Francis.

I pray that Christians can live in peace with one another and those who do not share our faith. I pray that we can find ways to overcome the often very legitimate hurts, grievances and divisions of our 2000 year history. At the same time I pray that we can repent from our own wrongs and work to heal the many wounds created by Christians who abused power, privilege and even those who oppressed others, waged war and killed in the name of Jesus.

I do not believe that neither triumphalism nor authoritarianism has a place in in a healthy understanding of the church and how we live. I am suspicious of any clergy who seek power in a church or political setting. I profoundly reject any argument that requires the subjection of one Church with its tradition to any other Church. In fact I think that the arrogance and intolerance of Christians to others is a large part of why people are leaving the church in droves and that the fastest growing “religious group” is the “nones” or those with no religious preference. Andrew Greeley said something that we should take to heart:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

I grew up in and have lived my life in a very open and ecumenical environment. I have lost any trace denominational parochialism and competition that I might have had if I had become a pastor of a civilian parish instead of a chaplain. It is interesting that the pastor that first ordained me in the evangelical tradition and the bishop that ordained me as a priest both did so with the intent that I serve as a chaplain. Whether it was the recognition of a gifting for the work or the fact that they didn’t want me messing up their civilian operations by asking hard questions I will never know.

I believe that my environment and the men and women who have helped shape my life have been a stronger influence in the way I think about ecumenical relations and ministry than my actual theology or ecclesiology. Whether they were Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals or even those considered by many to be outside the faith including Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Mormons and even complete non-believers all have contributed to my life and faith.

I have grown weary of refighting theological debates that have divided the church for a thousand years. Since what we know of theology including our Scriptures and Creeds are based on faith and not science I see no reason to continue to battle.

That doesn’t mean that I think we should put our brains in neutral but rather we must wrestle with how to integrate our faith with science, philosophy and reason, otherwise we will become irrelevant. In that sense I identify with Saint Anselm of Canterbury who wrote about a faith seeking understanding and Erasmus of Rotterdam who very well understood the importance of both faith and reason. In that sense I am very much at home with the Anglican triad of Scripture, Reason and Tradition when it comes to approaching faith.

I struggle with faith and belief. After Iraq I spent two years as a practical agnostic. As Andrew Greeley wrote: “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” Andrew Greeley “The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain”

I am an Old Catholic and believe that inter-communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion, or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith. I like to think that I embody what the early Anglicans referred to as the via media and that somehow my life and ministry has been about building bridges at the intersections of faith with a wide diversity of people.

When I have tried to embrace traditionalism or choose to fight theological battles I have ended up tired, bitter and at enmity with other Christians. In a sense when I tried those paths I found that they didn’t work for me. I discovered that I was not being true to who God had created and guided my life, education and experience. I feel like T. E. Lawrence who wrote:

“The rare man who attains wisdom is, by the very clearness of his sight, a better guide in solving practical problems than those, more commonly the leaders of men, whose eyes are misted and minds warped by ambition for success….”

My favorite theological debates have been with other chaplains over pints of good beer in German Gasthausen or Irish pubs. Those were good times, we argued but we also laughed and always left as friends and brothers. I believe since we are human that none of us will ever fully comprehend all of God or his or her truth. I believe that the Holy Spirit, God’s gracious gift to her people will guide us into all Truth. For me my faith has become more about relationships and reconciliation than in being right.

As far as those who disagree with me that is their right, or your right, if that is the case. I don’t expect agreement and I am okay with differences and even if I disagree with an individual or how another religious denominations polity, theology, beliefs or practices those are their rights. In fact I am sure that those that believe things that I don’t are at least as sincere as me and that those beliefs are important to them. I just ask that people don’t try to use them to force their faith or belief on others, be it in churches or by attempting to use the power of government to coerce others into their belief systems.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, Religion

Conservative Heresy 101: The Conservative Bible Project

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Andy Schlafly 

Well it is the New Year and there is no way better to celebrate it than by excoriating the methods of a group of Conservatives who are busily re-writing the Bible according to “Conservative principles.”

These people are the very same people who call Pope Francis a Marxist and condemn anyone who sees the strong message of social justice that is found throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus in the Gospels. For these people the issue is not what the Bible says, but how they can get it to line up with their political and economic ideological goals. The Conservative Bible Project  is so bad that even wing nuts like World Net Daily’s editor in chief Joseph Farah said: “I’ve seen some incredibly stupid and misguided initiatives by ‘conservatives’ in my day, but this one takes the cake…there is nothing conservative about re-writing the Bible.”

I may be considered by some to be a Liberal but I do hold Scripture in high regard. Thus although I am very open to good research, linguistics, archeology and other methods to re-examine the texts since time nor discovery knows no limits, I do object to those that re-write Scripture to fit their theological and even more evil their political bias. How someone interprets Scripture in light of their theology, something called Hermeneutics, is within the bounds be it conservative or liberal of whatever theological school. However, re-writing the text to make it say things it does not say is neither scholarly nor is it honest. Unfortunately it is happening and the group doing the greatest to destroy the legitimacy of Scripture is a conservative Christian group with ties to the most extreme elements of the political right in the United States.

I ran across this initially on my friend Joel Watts’ website back in 2009. Joel is a real Bible scholar and his website Unsettled Christianity.com is really good and the site of some very good scholarly debate. (The link to Joel’s article is here: http://unsettledchristianity.com/2009/10/get-the-liberal-stuff-out-of-our-bible/ ) I wrote about it back in 2009 because initially I thought that it had to be some kind of joke. Today I am simply cleaning up that article and making sure that it is still accurate. Sadly it is.

The Conservative Bible Project sounds like something that one might read in “The Onion.”  Unfortunately it is part of the conservapedia.com movement which was founded by Andrew Schlafly. Andrew is the son of Phyllis “I won’t censure my associates who suggest a violent revolution” Schlafly the ancient embittered head of the Eagle Forum.

When I first came across the project I found the whole thing amazing.  I guess that is because I never thought that any Christian who holds to any kind of orthodoxy would “translate” the Bible through a political and economic hermeneutic rather than a theological one.

But this is exactly what the folks at the Conservative Bible Project have done and continue to do.  What they have written is simply so rich in contradiction, irony and mixed with enough hubris and heresy to make it almost as fun to critique as the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation, if they weren’t serious.

Admittedly the bias of any team of translators shows in any Bible translation, it cannot be helped.  Translators are human and their theological and preferences can be seen in the translation of passages in which they may differ with other camps.  This does not mean at all that any of these folks are being dishonest but rather they are seeking to best interpret the words of Scripture but are guided influenced by their theology and underlying hermeneutic.  Likewise there can be differences due to the translators attempting to communicate the idea and meaning versus trying to make a close word for word translation.  However these translations, excepting the Jehovah’s Witless New World Translation, actually can claim that their translators are attempting to be as forthright as possible in their translation attempt within the limits of their theology and interpretive hermeneutic.

But now we come to the Conservative Bible Project.  This is a brazen attempt to re-write the Bible based on a conservative-libertarian political and economic basis rather than on any kind of theological principle.  The project is shameless as it seeks to re-interpret or exclude passages of Scripture that have been believed as Canonical by the Church since the Canon of Scripture was finalized.  If it is bad for “liberals” to take liberties with the Biblical text it is equally wrong for so called “conservatives” to do so.  So before I keep ranting, which I would like to I will let the creators of this alleged “translation” speak for themselves.  If you don’t believe me the link is here:

http://conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible_Project

Before you read any of the rest of this you need to read the prologue to the Conservapedia site and if you need to check the link is here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservapedia 

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The Introduction to Conservapedia

Schlafly’s Conservapedia is an English-language wiki-based Web encyclopedia.  Schlafly’s project is written from an Americentric and Conservative Christian perspective. It is anti-science and holds to a Young Earth Creation view.  Schlafly, a lawyer and social studies teacher started it in 2006. Schlafly started the project because he felt that Wikipedia “had a liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-American bias.”

The “translators” of the Conservative Bible display an acute sense of distrust and paranoia in the preface to their “Bible.”

“The untaught and the unstable twist [Paul’s letters] to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:16

By this verse, we should not put absolute authority in “official” Bible translators – such as those of “The Message” or “The Green Bible”. Instead, we should translate for ourselves, or in a collaborative effort with others we personally trust.

That is where they begin, with their own translation of scripture, a smearing of other translators and the hubris that only they can be trusted.

The following is the article about the Conservative Bible Project taken from Conservepedia verbatim. I have made no edits and even included their hyperlinks.  I begin with their underlying presupposition which comes from their “notes” section. I had to highlight the last part because it shows the depravity of the thinking of these people. It all come their website. I didn’t make it up.

Why They Are Doing this

  1. The committee in charge of updating the bestselling version, the NIV, is dominated by professors and higher-educated participants who can be expected to be liberal and feminist in outlook. As a result, the revision and replacement of the NIV will be influenced more by political correctness and other liberal distortions than by genuine examination of the oldest manuscripts. As a result of these political influences, it becomes desirable to develop a conservative translation that can serve, at a minimum, as a bulwark against the liberal manipulation of meaning in future versions.
  1. Additional less important guidelines include (1) adherence to a concise and dignifying style, such as use of “who” rather than “that” when referring to people and also use glorifying language for the remarkable achievements and (2) recognizing that Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well.

The rest of the article follows:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts of Christianity
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

Of these three sources of errors, the last introduces the largest error, and the biggest component of that error is liberal bias. Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.[1]

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]

  1. 1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. 2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. 3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
  4. 4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. 5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. 6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. 7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. 8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. 9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. 10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Thus, a project has begun among members of Conservapedia to translate the Bible in accordance with these principles. The translated Bible can be found here.

Benefits to participants include:

  • mastery of the Bible, which is priceless
  • mastery of the English language, which is valuable
  • thorough understanding of the differences in Bible translations, particularly the historically important King James Version
  • benefiting from activity that no public school would ever allow

How long would this project take? There are about 8000 verses in the New Testament. At a careful rate of translating about four verses an hour, it would take one person 2000 hours, or about one year working full time on the project.

Possible Approaches

Here are possible approaches to creating a conservative Bible translation:

  • identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as “government”, and suggest more accurate substitutes
  • identify the omission of liberal terms for vices, such as “gambling”, and identify where they should be used
  • identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations, and propose where they could improve the translation
  • identify terms that have lost their original meaning, such as “word” in the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggest replacements, such as “truth”

An existing translation might license its version for improvement by the above approaches, much as several modern translations today are built on prior translations. Alternatively, a more ambitious approach would be to start anew from the best available ancient transcripts.

In stage one, the translation could focus on word improvement and thereby be described as a “conservative word-for-word” translation. If greater freedom in interpretation is then desired, then a “conservative thought-for-thought” version could be generated as a second stage.

Building on the King James Version

In the United States and much of the world, the immensely popular and respected King James Version (KJV) is freely available and in the public domain. It could be used as the baseline for developing a conservative translation without requiring a license or any fees. Where the KJV is known to be deficient due to discovery of more authentic sources, exceptions can be made that use either more modern public domain translations as a baseline, or by using the original Greek or Hebrew.

There are 66 books in the KJV, comprised of 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 788,280 words.[6] The project could begin with translation of the New Testament, which is only 27 books, 260 chapters, 7,957 verses, and less than 200,000 words.

Retranslation at rate of 20 verses a day would complete the entire New Testament in about a year. With 5 good retranslators, that would be an average of only 4 verses a day per translator. At a faster rate of 20 verses per day by 5 good translators, the entire New Testament could be retranslated in less than 3 months.

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First Example – Liberal Falsehood

The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:[7]

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

Second Example – Dishonestly Shrewd

At Luke 16:8, the NIV describes an enigmatic parable in which the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” But is “shrewdly”, which has connotations of dishonesty, the best term here? Being dishonestly shrewd is not an admirable trait.

The better conservative term, which became available only in 1851, is “resourceful”. The manager was praised for being “resourceful”, which is very different from dishonesty. Yet not even the ESV, which was published in 2001, contains a single use of the term “resourceful” in its entire translation of the Bible.

Third Example – Socialism

Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the “social justice” movement among Christians.

For example, the conservative word “volunteer” is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word “comrade” is used three times, “laborer(s)” is used 13 times, “labored” 15 times, and “fellow” (as in “fellow worker”) is used 55 times.

Advantages to a Conservative Bible Online

There are several striking advantages to a conservative approach to translating the Bible online:

  • participants learn enormously from the process
  • liberal bias – and lack of authenticity – become easier to recognize and address
  • by translating online, this utilizes the growing online resources that improve accuracy
  • supported by conservative principles, the project can be bolder in uprooting and excluding liberal distortions
  • the project can adapt quickly to future threats from liberals to biblical integrity
  • access is free and immediate to the growing internet audience, for their benefit
  • the ensuing debate would flesh out — and stop — the infiltration of churches by liberals pretending to be Christian, much as a vote by legislators exposes the liberals
  • this would bring the Bible to a new audience of political types, for their benefit; Bible courses in college Politics Departments would be welcome
  • this would debunk the pervasive and hurtful myth that Jesus would be a political liberal today

References

  1. The committee in charge of updating the bestselling version, the NIV, is dominated by professors and higher-educated participants who can be expected to be liberal and feminist in outlook. As a result, the revision and replacement of the NIV will be influenced more by political correctness and other liberal distortions than by genuine examination of the oldest manuscripts. As a result of these political influences, it becomes desirable to develop a conservative translation that can serve, at a minimum, as a bulwark against the liberal manipulation of meaning in future versions.
  2. Additional less important guidelines include (1) adherence to a concise and dignifying style, such as use of “who” rather than “that” when referring to people and also use glorifying language for the remarkable achievements and (2) recognizing that Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well.
  3. The NIV has supplanted the KJV in popularity.
  4. For example, in 1611 the conservative concept of “accountability” had not yet developed, and the King James Version does not use “accountable to God” in translating Romans 3:19; good modern translations do.
  5. For example, the English Standard Version (2001) does not use the word “gamble” anywhere in translating numerous references to the concept in the Bible.
  1. http://www.biblebelievers.com/believers-org/kjv-stats.html
  1. Quoted here from the NIV.

Wow! That was a lot of fun huh?  The fun continues sports fans, here are the guidelines that they list for their project are below and the link is here, again I make no edits: http://conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible

The Conservative Bible is the product of the Conservative Bible Project. This is uniquely built on two bedrock principles:

  • online translating using the collaborative wiki software improves the final result if guided by good rules
  • the rules guiding this translation are to use and be informed by conservative insights and terminology

To the best of our knowledge, this project is the first to utilize either of the above principles in translating the Bible.

Here lists the 66 books of the Holy Bible to be translated in this project, with the ones having links already being works-in-progress:[1]

A Warning from the Conservative Bible Project Editiors: 

It is very important to translate the Bible correctly. As it is written, “I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book” (Revelation 22, 18-19). See also Deuteronomy 4:2 (Conservative Bible): “Do not add to the word that I command you, and do not subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”

And yet there’s more…

Sorry that part was so good I had to highlight it.  In light of what you see next you have to love the quotation out of Revelation that they use in the passage above.

I love irony, that’s why some of my clothes go to the cleaners and the rest are permanent press.   I think they’ll need to get some plague insurance and maybe even get their tickets ready for their all expense paid trip the Lake of Fire Resort and Eternal Time Share.  Just so you can read a few of their “translations” in John’s Gospel I have pasted them here.  If you need to see them the link is here:  http://conservapedia.com/John_1-7_%28Translated%29

In the beginning was Truth, and the Truth was with God, and the Truth was God. (John 1:1)

And the spirit was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as the only child of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

And from Mark: http://conservapedia.com/Gospel_of_Mark_%28Translated%29

“I have baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Divine Guide.” (Mark 1:8)

The intellectuals watched Jesus to see if he might catch and accuse him of healing on the Sabbath. (Mark 3:2)

The intellectuals then fled from the scene to plot with Herod’s people against Jesus, and plan how they might destroy him. (Mark 3:6)

Furious, the intellectual classes wanted to seize him, but feared the public; they knew this parable was directed at them. They gave up for now and walked out. (Mark 12:12)

Final thoughts

So just a cursory examination shows that though they are serious that this cannot be taken seriously as a real translation, but it should if it ever comes to fruition be condemned.  Liberal or Conservative this kind of behavior is repugnant. I wonder what Pugs have to do with it anyway, but this is dangerous stuff.  It represents a paradigm shift in how some Conservatives who at one time could be counted on to have a high view of Scripture now do great violence to the text.

Their motivation could not be any more crass, to buttress an American centric ultra conservative political and economic ideology by re-writing the Bible.  This shows incredible hubris on the part of these guys first to make these assumptions and then to recommend removal of parts of the Bible that they deem objectionable because the verse is only in one Gospel.  Likewise the use of “powerful conservative words” is only understood by their definition of such terms found here: http://conservapedia.com/Essay:Best_New_Conservative_Terms

Putting it kindly these guys are hacks.  They are so fearful of anything that they don’t agree with that they have to re-write the Bible to make it fit their ideological beliefs. They are fundamentally dishonest in their approach.

I do think it is funny that they rename the Pharisees as “the Intellectuals.” That is rich.  Likewise referring to the Logos as “the Truth” is really taking liberties with the text to say the “Spirit being made flesh” does violence to the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, as does calling the Holy Spirit the “Divine Guide.” That last part actually sounds a little “new age” to me.

At the same time if these guys were not deadly serious it would be funny as hell.  As I initially noted when I first read about it I thought it had to be some sick joke put out by a satire publication like the Onion.  I had some conversations with Joel and some of the other guys commenting on his site and find this simply amazing.  The link to his article and the comments is here:  http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2009/10/get-the-liberal-stuff-out-of-our-bible/

Anyway, the topic did energize me just because of its malignancy as well as the fun I had with it.  As you guys know I’m pretty much a want everyone to get along. I am an Old Catholic with strong middle of the road Anglican Ethos valuing Scripture, Reason and Tradition. I happened to graduate from a pretty solid Southern Baptist Seminary.  That means that for Andy Schlafly and his bunch I’m definitely on the Highway to Hell so I’d better change my default ring-tone on my cell phone to it just to remind me of where they have me going every time someone calls me.

Peace Baby and Rock on,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Political Commentary, Religion

Belief and Unbelief

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“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep.” Frederick Buechner

I have always found that the story of the man who asks Jesus to heal his daughter in Mark 9:24 to resonate with me. The man cries out to Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief.”This has been part of my faith journey for decades. I think that it is one of the truest declarations of faith ever recorded. I know many people, believers of different faiths and unbelievers alike who believe with unrequited certitude. They outwardly proclaim what they believe as absolute and those who do mot believe like them are to be pitied or maybe even despised. While many will make that kind of proclamation I wonder how many believe with the certitude of their public statements be they a “believer” or an unbeliever.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury wrote “Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe to understand.”

I confess that as much as I believe that I often doubt. Not that I doubt God, but rather that I doubt humanity’s capacity to truly understand the infinite possibilities of God or of human existence. I actually think that means that I believe in a pretty infinite kind of God. For me I have taken Anselm’s understanding of faith as any of us who profess to believe in God or something else as the closest thing to truth we will know in this present life. Our lives, our existence is shrouded in understanding that is at best “seen through a mirror darkly” in the words of Paul the Apostle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “Man no longer lives in the beginning -he has lost the beginning. Now he finds himself in the middle, knowing neither the end or the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going toward the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them.

I love what some refer to as the Anglican Triad of belief, that the Christian faith is interpreted through Scripture, Tradition and Reason. But I also think that we as Christians also need to interpret it through our experience and humbly acknowledge that we do live in that “uncomfortable middle” neither knowing the beginning or the end.

This makes many if not most people uncomfortable. We want certainty. We want to be in control. However many no longer believe in themselves, much less a God that they cannot see and substitute an absolute belief in an “orthodoxy” of some movement, be it religious, philosophical, political or scientific and cling to it with unbridled fanaticism. That spirit is the genus of every mass movement and often the root of great evil. One only has to look at history to understand the truth of this.

Eric Hoffer wrote that “Even the sober desire for progress is sustained by faith- faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature and the omnipotence of science. It is a defiant and blasphemous faith, not unlike that held by the men who set out to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach into heaven” and who believed that “nothing will be restrained to them, which they imagined to do.”

Faith is important but regardless of what we put our faith in, God, humanity, science or materialism we have to own the limitations of our faith simply because of our existence in this uncomfortable middle. For me this limitation means that I believe in order to understand. My faith seeks understanding but understands that in this life I will not understand even the remotest amount of the vastness of creation, the spiritual aspects of life or even why there is the designated hitter rule, bats made of anything other than wood or artificial turf on a baseball diamond. But I digress…

My faith as it is as a Christian is in Jesus the Christ. It is stated in the Creeds and testified to in Scripture, tradition and history, but even those accounts are incomplete, John the Apostle says as much at the end of his Gospel as does Paul in Corinthians. Thus I believe that if Christians believe that we must honestly acknowledge the limitations that we have in understanding even what we claim to believe. We have to believe that there is in light of this limitation that we do not know “all truth” or even that we fully understand the limited amount that we actually can study or observe, or for that matter that we even correctly interpret those strongly held beliefs, be they religious, political, scientific or philosophical. That goes for the Christian, any other religious person, as well as the Pagan or the Atheist. Harry Callahan once said “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

Such a life does not lend itself to triumphalism of any kind, but rather in humility. Real faith in whatever we determine is truth is also is best demonstrated in our doubts and the honesty to admit our limitations. There is a prayer from Kenya that I found many years ago which says from the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, good Lord deliver us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Faith, Hope and Identity a Mid-Lent Meditation

“If it is hope that maintains and upholds faith and keeps it moving on, if it is hope that draws the believer into the life of love, then it will also be hope that is the mobilizing and driving force of faith’s thinking, of its knowledge of, and reflections on, human nature, history and society. Faith hopes in order to know what it believes. Hence all its knowledge will be an anticipatory, fragmentary knowledge forming a prelude to the promised future, and as such is committed to hope.” Jürgen Moltmann- Theology of Hope

When someone goes through a spiritual crisis or loss of faith it is a chilling time.  Even when you are trying to believe there is always a time that you really take stock of exactly what you believe and why.  Without regurgitating the crisis in my life and faith that came after my return from Iraq and near physical, emotional and spiritual collapse that came with my PTSD I wanted to just take a few paragraphs to meditate on the grace, mercy and love of God that is a central theme of the Gospel.

I have talked about the miracle that embraced me during the season of Advent and Christmas.  I call it my “Christmas miracle” because the year prior I had spent Christmas Eve walking in the dark and cold wondering if God even existed even as most of the Christian world was celebrating the Incarnation of Christ the Lord.  Since that time my faith has continued to be renewed and restored and with the exception of battling Adolf Von Grosse Schmertzen my very painful and very big Kidney Stone have come to feel like my old self for the first time since Iraq.

As I have entered Lent it has been a time of renewal.  Part of that renewal has been being able to believe again and as the Psalmist says, “be still and know that I am God.” This has been a refreshing time as I have continued to experience God’s grace as well as grown in my faith which is founded on the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  That actually has helped me as I have experienced some measure of healing and recovery from what I experienced.

My time in Iraq was meaningful and I loved my Marines, Soldiers and other advisers as well as our Iraqi allies.  When I came back I felt alone and a lot of that came as my church had endured a series of scandals and splits and even before Iraq I had been thrashed by some of the people at the center of the storm who have all since left the church for other places that they can afflict.  Coming home to that was disillusioning, as isolation that I felt from many in the chaplain community.  I have found that my experience is not uncommon and that others have had similar experiences upon their return from Iraq.

For me this meant a period of almost two years where it seemed that God himself had disappeared from my life.  I struggled to even pray.  That is no longer the case, I seem to be on the rebound and God is real again.  So things have changed, I think that my faith has matured in some ways, I don’t need to go argue points of doctrine that saints, theologians and philosophers much smarter than me have legitimate disagreements about for centuries.  Nor do I need to push my views on people in my church or anywhere else as if I had the latest and last word from the Almighty.  I used to seek approval and want to have input on denominational theological or liturgical committees and I would write in the hope that my “brilliance” would be recognized and that my opinion would be sought after. When I write something now it is because I believe it and to stimulate interest and discussion and occasionally to answer or critique those who use faith as a weapon to bludgeon or intimidate those that they are against.  I do not expect to change anyone’s mind and since I have no position where I can enforce my beliefs on anyone else (nor would I want to thank you) my thoughts are simply that.  I hope that they edify and encourage and if someone has a “wow I could have had a V-8 moment” reading something that I write I’m okay with that.

Hans Kung once said: “Time and again we see leaders and members of religions incite aggression, fanaticism, hate, and xenophobia – even inspire and legitimate violent and bloody conflicts.” I guess to some this will sound “liberal” but I came back different from Iraq and I have seen too many people suffer from those that would use religion as a weapon to control others. In Iraq I had Iraqi officers; including Generals tell me that they did not trust their Islamic clergy Sunni or Shi’a because they by their words and actions had caused so much suffering during the insurgency that followed the US invasion of Iraq.  Unfortunately I am seeing the same kind of attitude that the Iraqi officers describe grow exponentially in this country, especially among the farthest right of the religious right. The use faith and religion to enforce their particular understanding of the Bible on people who are not Christians is troubling and something that our often very secular and not very Christian “Enlightenment” thinker founders understood. Some now declare anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% as enemies not only of them, but of God and often over things that are not even Biblical like economics, gun control, taxes and a host of other conservative political issues. Now there are those on the far left that do the same thing but most do not use the Christian faith as justification for their intolerance of opposing views.  Somehow while I don’t think God sees things that way that the extremes see them I know that the Al Qaida Iraq, the Taliban and other groups think much in the same way.   However, such speech is protected and even if disagree with it would not support attempting to silence those who hold beliefs that I disagree with be they religious or political. Debate, dialogue and even disagreement on issues are important in both the Church and society in order that we don’t become a tyranny of the right or left, religious or secular.

As such my faith has grown in that I have no agenda other than to care for the people that God allows me to have contact with.  I’m certainly not perfect at this and at times my default setting of being an ass can re-emerge but I know that Christ is working in my life again.  I have emerged from what Saint John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”  My faith is in God and in Christ crucified who in the words of St Paul who said “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV) I like what Chrysostom says about this passage: “For had it been His pleasure to require an account of the things we had transgressed in, we should all have perished….” The fact that God has condescended to reach out to his creation in this manner is evidenced also in 1 John 2:1-2 where the Apostle writes: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[the sins of the whole world.” For me this Lent is about reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins in an age where so many are drawing lines in the sand and preparing for war, be it religious, social or ideological.

So anyway, it has become more important to me after having gone to war and seeing its effects on people as well as having looked into the abyss of hopelessness to be an advocate for reconciliation, peace and hope for the future especially in my own country where the anger, division and even hatred between the political and religious right and the political, religious and secular left seems to rise to new heights every day.

My identity is not in a political leader, party or ideology, it is in Christ crucified. My optimism is based on him and the creation that he reconciles unto himself and I cannot give up hope or be silent about God’s love and reconciliation .  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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