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Doubt, Faith and Realism: Doubting Thomas

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Yesterday I celebrated Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter its a number of m students and their families at our Staff College Chapel. I have to say that I love what do, I never will regret following the call that I first felt aboard the USS Frederick (LST-1184) back in 1978 to become a Navy Chaplain.

Of course was with everything in my life it has not been easy, and to quote Jerry Garcia I have to admit “what a long strange trip it’s been.” Bug my friends I digress…

That being said, today was a specially day. I was able to celebrate Eucharist with some very nice people and today the Gospel lesson, from the final chapter of John centered on the story of St. Thomas, or he is better know among most people today, “Doubting Thomas.”

The interesting thing is that unlike most “true believers” today Thomas was not rejected by the other disciples as they testified to the resurrection, nor by Jesus himself. Thomas you see was a realist who wanted proof. Thomas wanted to put his hand in the wounds of Jesus, the same Jesus who he knew was crucified and dead. As a realist, Thomas know that dead is dead and unless as he told the other disciples, unless he could put his hand in the wounds of Jesus he would not believe.

Personally, I admire that, more than most people could imagine. Faith is faith, it is not about having to absolutely know, but is about trust, about belief even when you cannot prove it, otherwise it would not be faith. That is why when I see those who have to prove that the absolute certitude that they call “faith” is “absolute truth” I realize that they have totally missed the point of the Gospel.

Having gone through a period of almost two years where as a priest and chaplain I was for all practical purposes an agnostic hoping that God existed I understand this. In fact I have to admit that even today I doubt as much as I believe. I totally understand Thomas, and in fact not only understand, but feel a special kinship with this much maligned follower of Jesus.

Truthfully I think that doubt is a very good thing, it keeps us honest, it keeps us from becoming pious, arrogant, religious assholes who think that they know it all.

Truthfully, I don’t know it all. In fact, as the late Earl Weaver said, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” At least that seems to be the case for Thomas and the other disciples because what happened with Jesus and the resurrection blew their minds, it was not anything that they could fathom.

Perhaps Thomas, having not been one of the first witnesses to the resurrection was actually more circumspect and a bit more like us than the disciples who first saw Jesus following his crucifixion and resurrection. I would actually saw more honest, for in fact Thomas was a realist who refused to believe unless he had some kind of physical evidence. That my friends I appreciate more than I ever did, because even though Thomas saw Jesus, talked with him and had Jesus show him his wounds, Thomas only believed when he saw and touched those wounds. I cannot condemn nor can I question the faith of the man who is most identified with doubt.

Doubt is not bad. As the late Father Andrew Greeley wrote in his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain: 

“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.” 

That my friends is faith. That is Easter, if we knew it absolutely it would not be faith and that would be against everything proclaimed by those that first followed Jesus. In fact if we claim with absolute certitude that we know everything needed to be right with God and that we know exactly what God desires, we are probably liars, or at the minimum sadly deluded. As the late Father Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

I think this is something that Thomas and the other disciples came to understand. All of them had their moments of faith, and certainly their times of unbelief, even after the resurrection. Maybe that is why Jesus told Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  

Thomas was a realist. Even though the other disciples testified to Jesus being alive, Thomas knew that dead, was dead. He knew that Jesus had died on that cross and that it would take more than words to make him believe that Jesus was alive.

Faith is not about certitude as much as the apologists and propagandists of any faith may say, faith always has to have an element of doubt, otherwise it cannot legitimately be called faith. In fact sincere faith admits that it could be wrong, and as the Paul the Apostle said “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile….”

Personally, I find nothing wrong with that. For me that is honest faith, that is Easter faith.

So, have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Faith and Doubt on a Friday During Lent

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William James wrote that “Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.”

Many religious people, be they Christians, Jews, Moslems or others equate their faith in what cannot be seen or proven to be a certainty. But faith, even as understood by someone like the Apostle Paul was something that was not provable in this life. In fact Paul is bold enough to proclaim that if Christians are not correct concerning their faith in the risen Christ that they are to be pitied among men.

Faith in something, even God is not proof. In fact faith can never be asserted to be fact until the final consummation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic Creation and Fall Temptation, Two Biblical Studies wisely noted that:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Bonhoeffer’s words show a wisdom often lacking in young theologians. No matter how firmly we believe the words of Scripture or the Creeds they are at their heart statements of faith, not fact. They may be true, and I believe them to be. That being said we cannot prove them  and simply making circular arguments about their truth does not make them true. Thus I always find that I am amazed when I see some Christians insist that what they believe is “absolute truth” even when they have no “proof” of its truth outside of their statements of faith. Such is the trap of circular logic. Bonhoeffer quite correctly noted that “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”

I have learned to appreciate the struggle of faith. I believe, but I seek understanding. That being said I know that whatever I know, I only know in part, as Paul said I see “through a glass darkly,” but one day I shall see “face to face.”

Those that equate faith with certitude do so at their own peril, and often are willing to sacrifice others to ensure that their belief remains unquestioned.

The great American Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

“Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologies, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!”

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with doubt. There is nothing wrong with struggle. In fact it is shown in the lives of those that we consider “saints” throughout both the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Faith without doubt and faith without struggle is not faith, it is idolatry. Bonhoeffer expressed this well when he said “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”

In fact absolute certitude masquerading as faith in the life of the faithful often leads to great violence and evil. One only has to look at what happened on September 11th 2001 to see the results of such violent certitude.

As for me I have faith, but at the same time I doubt. Sometimes doubts outweigh faith and at other times faith outweighs doubt. That being said I find comfort in the scriptures where Paul honestly and openly writes of his conflicts and doubts. Henri Nouwen had it right when he said:

“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

That is the real fact of the matter. It is something that Christians more interested in truth rather than protecting their social position have believed for decades have died to proclaim.

None of us, no matter how learned we are, or how certain we believe, really know much about God. And that my friends is certain.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Duty, Calling and Vocation

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“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ Luke 17:10 

Today was one of those weird days. As I thought about the government shutdown and the political crisis that has enveloped our political system, as well as the very real domestic and foreign policy consequences of this asinine situation I was confronted with the scriptures for today from the lectionary.

I find it fascinating to find who timely the readings for the lectionary are, even though they have been set for years.

Today the Old Testament lesson was from Habakuk when in the first chapter the prophet cries to God about how bad things are and asks why God doesn’t do anything about it. The New Testament reading from Timothy was an encouragement from Paul to Timothy to remember his calling and vocation. The Gospel reading from Luke began with Jesus talking about faith but then discussing the duty and responsibility of the servants.

In light of the current asinine situation regarding our government which when you look at it logically makes no sense whatsoever the readings were pretty spot on. Habakuk complained to God about what a mess Israel was and was told by the Lord to hang in there and the the Lord had a plan. Paul wrote to Timothy in what obviously was a time of crisis in Timothy’s pastoral life and reminded Timothy about his calling. Likewise in the Gospel the real crux of the matter when well beyond the “faith” of the disciples but to the simple understanding that they were servants and the responsibility of servants was to do their duty.

Duty is something ingrained in me after 32 plus years of service in the military and over 22 years of ministry as a Army and Navy Chaplain. It is somewhat tied in with my sense of calling which was one of the few things that helped me hold in during the depths of my post-Iraq PTSD crash when I was for all intents and purposes an agnostic praying that God existed. I am glad for the deep rooted sense of duty, calling and vocation because otherwise I probably would be here today.

I have always liked the prayer of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits:

Teach us, good Lord,
To serve you as you deserve;
To give and not count the cost;
To fight and not heed the wounds;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To labor and not to ask for any reward,
Except that of knowing that we do your will;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Duty can be a hard thing, precisely because to do ones duty sometimes means that the situation will not be comfortable nor will the reward be great. Likewise there are times when doing one’s duty involves great sacrifice to do what is right. Now I am willing to fight for what I think is right, even if the costs are great.

Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote:

“God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right, even though I think it is hopeless.” 

That is a prayer that I can only respond to with a hearty “amen.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Social Justice from the Prophet Amos and Pope Francis

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Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain,

and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah,

add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver,

and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done! Amos 8:4-

There is a certain joy and challenge to having to preach every week, especially when one follows the lectionary instead of making things up as we go based on our favorite theological biases or interests.

Thus coming back to a place where I am having to preach each week it is a challenge. It is interesting for me to see what the Bible has to say on issues that Christians including me like to ignore. The funny, but not so funny thing is that those parts of the Bible that many conservative American Christians of all denominations, but especially Evangelicals like to ignore are the kinds of passages that are more the norm than the exception. Thus we tend to ignore the really challenging things and focus on what tickles people’s ears. Now I have never been a fan of having my ears tickled but evidently some do or the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have not warned Timothy about it.

In the United States Christians have it good. As rich and fashionably well to do entitled Christians we love to cite verses that talk about prosperity.  Those more theologically adept love to misuse the writings and theology of John Calvin to show who our material success somehow equals God blessing us. The sad thing is in order to do that many of us will totally ignore most of Jesus’ teachings about the misuse of wealth and the abuse of the poor as well as those of Paul, James, and the vast majority of the prophets of the Old Testament in such matters. But then what do they know? They didn’t study Ayn Rand did they?

I can only imagine what Amos, a prophet from Judah whose ministry was primarily directed at the Kingdom of Israel in about 750 BC would be if he walked among American Christians today. I mean really, think about it. Amos almost sounds like he is talking about the Prosperity Preachers and those in the church who for the sake of partisan political power are willing to ignore or even worse to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in society for their own place at the seat of power.

How Constantinian of them. Yet Amos and most of the other prophets seem to have a most egregious disregard for the issues that contemporary Christians have sacrificed on the altar of political power and expediency. Yes “Christian Right” I and they are talking about you.

Pope Francis is nailing the issue. For too long the Christian Church in the United States and western Europe have been engaging in the so called “culture wars.” While some of the issues are legitimate including some of the pro-life related issues, they are actually subordinated to a broader and much more insidious agenda which is neither Christian or for that matter American, at least in the sense understood by the religiously tolerant and pluralistic founders of the country understood.

Ever since Nazi apologist Pat Buchanan (See his book Hitler Churchill and the Unnecessary War) declared the beginning of the “Culture Wars” in 1992 and long after the foundations were laid by others on the Christian Right the Church, Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic decided on the Christian version of Jihad to achieve political goals. In fact men like Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft actually wrote books like Ecumenical Jihad to define their strategy and goals. Clothed in the veneer of Constantinian virtue these people helped lead the church into an abyss that from which may not be able to extricate itself in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately the problem is that the culture wars are more often fought with the goal of maintaining the political power and influence of Christians while ignoring the very tenants of what writer after writer, prophet after prophet and even Jesus made foundational issues of their day. We Christians have sold out the Gospel in order to be co-opted by the very people and interests who hate the kind of justice that Jesus and  the prophets preached about.

When Pope Francis talked this week about those “culture wars” this week in a number of ways. He decried the manner in which some bishops were more at war with the culture than caring for the people of their own dioceses and how in terms of caring for and loving people “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules…” He said that in regard to the focus that many Catholics have had on abortion and homosexuality. Pope Francis said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.” To finish the week, or rather to start this week on a high note Francis attacked the culture of greed which many in the church have blessed and furthered.

I am all in with Pope Francis on this because he is speaking the truth. The fact is that he is saying things that most of us do not want to hear. Francis is talking about redemption, the fact as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”

Yes these are tough words, but the proof of their validity is in the pudding. Non-believers want nothing to do with the church, even if they happen to like what Jesus says and many believers are fleeing the church and not coming back. And yes this is different than the days when young people would leave the church for a few years and then come back. The folks leaving now for the most part have no desire to return. The reasons are self evident. It is not Jesus, nor is it even doctrine. It is how Christians and the Church treat the world. Something that Pope Francis seems to understand while many of his Bishops as well as leaders of Evangelical Christian Churches in the United States seem oblivious.

George Barna, an Evangelical Christian who runs one of the most respected polling agencies around has done a number of polls on this very subject. Sad to say his polls, which are scientific in the way they are conducted line up with what I am saying here and what Pope Francis is speaking about.

One Barna poll asked the words which most describe Christianity. The results: 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, people for the most part raised in the church.

Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Dr Francis Schaeffer noted in his book Crazy for God: “I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around.” Schaeffer should know, in the 1970s and 1980s he was a key player in the growth of the political Christian Right.

But I digress…. Soren Kierkegaard noted “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”

The fact is that if we actually decide to look at the way we do life, faith, politics and ethics in light of the writings of men like Amos, James and even Paul to some extent not to mention Jesus we might have to actually repent. But then, when all that matters is maintaining our political and social power who needs repentance?

But I digress, after all, repentance in our American Christian culture is never having to say your sorry. It is no wonder that Mark Twain noted: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” 

I think that old Amos might just be talking to us as much as he was talking to the people and leaders of Israel. But hey, I could be wrong.

Peace

Padre Steve+

PS. I do plan on doing some articles over the next few weeks about how people of all religions attempt to use the political and police power of the state to advance their beliefs and to demonize dissenters.

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The Things that We Do: Killer Angels and Hew-Mons : The Part of Humanity we Don’t Like to Talk About

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“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.” Quark to Nog Deep Space Nine- The Siege of AR-558 

We human beings, regardless of our race, religion or political ideology are a complex lot.

On one hand we can exhibit the utmost kindness, compassion, care and charity and on the other hand we can bless, endorse, encourage. condone and execute the most cruel,  hateful, violent and “inhuman” acts against our fellow human beings. We are quite a contradictory lot if you ask me.

It really is a most interesting and at times contradictory phenomena when you look at it. Of course, I like to believe, as to most of us I am quite sure like to think that we have either been created by God or evolved into a species that rises above the baser parts of life, the things that we like to say were done in years past but are no longer a part of who we are as human beings.

The same can be said for those of us that consider ourselves to be Christians. We look back on nearly 2000 years of Christendom and well, it is not a pretty sight. But like every other generation of Christians we like to think that we are better, perhaps more spiritual, better educated, better interpreters of the Bible or even perhaps better in tune with the Holy Spirit of God than were those before us.

Of course those of us that think that we are so advanced that we have evolved past violence, cruelty, hatred and avarice, be we Christians or not tend to gloss over the fact that we are human, or as Quark calls us “Hew-mons.” As such we are capable of the most extreme acts of kindness, love and benevolence as well as the utmost in cruelty.

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Of course when I say “we” I do include “me” because I am like about everyone else, I have my good days and bad and as much as I would like to think that I am better than my baser instincts something happens and I find that I am not. That much is evident any time I get out into traffic or go to Wal-Mart. It is a good thing that I do not display any Christian symbols on either of my cars, I don’t want God getting blamed for my lack of Christian behavior, and frankly I wish more Christians would do the same. I have lost count of the number of vehicles adorned with Christian symbols, bumper stickers and personalized plates that have ignored all the basic courtesies, rules of the road and polite behavior and who are frankly rude assholes that probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive that make me wish that they would keep their faith in Jesus to themselves, it makes Jesus look bad. But I digress… but just a moment, why do so many of these people drive mini-vans? At least I seem to end up behind them or get cut off by them. Maybe the mini-van is an invention of the Devil? You won’t get me behind the wheel of one.

No wonder that Paul the Apostle laments in the 7th Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation commented on this passage “This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” It is one of the most honest commentaries on scripture even written no wonder we don’t like it.

I don’t know about you but this does make me think, take inventory of my own strengths, weaknesses, virtues and vices. The fact is that in any given situation Quark’s description of Hew-mons in general is very applicable to me.

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In Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg there is a remarkable exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, Colonel of he 20th Maine and Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdin College and Sergeant Buster Kilrain, an exile from Ireland fighting for the Union.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: [quoting Hamlet] “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”

Sergeant ‘Buster’ Kilrain: “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel.” 

In light of all that we see every day as human beings we must find it in our hearts to agree with Kilrain. We are such a contradictory species. As Spock would say “fascinating.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Tsaraev Brothers and the Danger of Faith Without Love

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“The separation of faith and love is always a consequence of a deterioration of religion.”  Paul Tillich 

There are many who claim faith of every type, be it religious, political, economic or scientific who have nothing but hatred in their hearts for others.

This was again made manifest this past week in the actions of the brothers Tsaraev in their orgy of violence inflicted on the people of Boston. Their crimes were committed in the name of Islam, as are many like them. However, such actions be they in the name of Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or any other deity show the intrinsic falseness and evil of such “faith” no matter how orthodox it may be.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Faith can be a powerful thing, for good or for evil. However when that faith is separated from love it is no longer of God, or even human. I do think that the apostle was absolutely right when he noted that if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Love is actually the key and love of God is always connected to love of neighbor, practical, observable and tangible love, not mere words. G.K. Chesterton said it well in this. “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

However to the “true believers” of so many religions, political, social and scientific orthodoxies, the two sometimes seem inexorably linked by the often fanatical actions of their most devout adherents being more concerned with power than love. The sad thing is that I don’t think that any of us are completely immune to such behavior and attitudes and probably all of us have a at least a little potential to be terrorists given the right circumstances.

When I read some blogs and websites written by some people that can be best described as “true believers” I am amazed at the violence of the words as well as the hatred and derision for others that do not believe like them that are contained. The fact that those are not occasional slips, errors of judgement on bad days like all of us are capable of making and do make all the time.

If that was the case it would not be that much of an issue. However, the authors of the majority many of these site are consumed with hatred toward others as a means of “defending” their beliefs. Some advocate violence in doing that, unencumbered by any doubts in their beliefs no matter what “orthodoxy” they believe in. Eric Hoffer wrote “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.”

I think this is exactly what motivates men like the Tsaraev brothers to kill the innocent and which lurks in those that preach hatred in the name of their god or whatever belief system is the functional equivalent of a god for them. The only difference is that most have not crossed the physical boundary from “nursing a fanatical grievance” and advocating violence to actually killing. Somehow I think that once that seed is planted, and cultivated that it sometimes takes on a life of its own.

The apostle was right: “If I have not love….” 

Peace

 

Padre Steve+

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An Easter People Living in a Good Friday World

Barbara Johnson wrote that Christians are an “Easter People Living in a Good Friday World.”

In the memorial acclamation which is part of many Eucharistic liturgies we proclaim “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” or possibly this variant “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored your life, Lord Jesus come in glory.  It has been part of the proclamation of the Gospels and various books of the New Testament and is the faith and prayer of those that call themselves Christians almost regardless of denomination from the very beginning.

Around the world many Christians understand this as they are persecuted for their faith sometimes to the point of death. The reality of Christians and others who are persecuted for their faith in many countries is quite unlike many American Christians who seem to believe that if someone disagrees with them they are being persecuted, despite enjoying tremendous political power and being the majority religion of the land.  Yet even in this country we live in a Good Friday world, maybe not like those that are dying for their faith but certainly in a place where suffering and violence abound, where innocent people are brutally murdered and where natural disasters bring destruction on the just and the unjust alike. In fact our country is experiencing a crisis of an order that it has not seen in many decades even while war, economic collapse and natural disasters and deep political division have left many people in deep despondency as well as in a very angry mood.

Our technology enables us to gather information and to receive news often faster than we can absorb it, thus when deluged by bad news it is easy to lose sight of the things that matter in life, especially relationships with those that we love as well as those that become part of our lives and of the Crucified God.

It is during Lent, Holy Week and in the Easter Triduum of Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter that the reality of God participating in our world, the real world of pain, suffering, injustice and death becomes something that keeps us, or rather those who profess the Christian faith from simply becoming exponents of what Luther termed the “theology of glory.”  The Cross is that scandal or stumbling block that according to Jürgen Moltmann, the knowledge of which “brings a conflict of interest between God who has become man and man who wishes to become God.” It is the Cross which forces us to deal with the present realities even while we remain fixed upon the hope of Easter.

Unfortunately for many American Christians our focus tends to be less on the Crucified and Risen God than on our attempts to use the raw power of the political process and unsavory compromises with those that would co-opt and compromise the faithful for the advancement of their political, social and economic agendas.  This is nothing new; it has been an unfortunate and painful series of chapters in the history of the Christian Church since the time that Christianity became legal and the State religion during the reign of Constantine.  The sad truth is that in Western Christianity beginning with the Catholic Church and extending out to those that have been the theological heirs of Saint Augustine Catholic and Protestant alike have more often than not allowed their faith to be subordinated to their political, economic and social agendas and thereby becoming captive to things that are often antithetical to the Gospel.

Yet in the midst of this there is the constant call of the Gospel, that “God was reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”  Moltmann puts this paradox well when he says:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

It is in this that Christians can fully be Easter People who live in a Good Friday world.  It is in living the paradox of Good Friday and Easter that we find just how God humbled himself for all people. In suffering the wrath of some incredibly religious people Jesus in the eloquent words of Paul the Apostle “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Phil 4:7-8) and in that God, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has 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.” (2 Cor 5:18-19)

Yes this is what it means to be an Easter people living in a Good Friday World.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Crimes and “Miss” Demeanors: The Catholic Church Equates Women’s Ordination with Pedophilia

Note: This is a serious post that unfortunately has been on my mind for some time and I have not written about it until now.  It is important enough for me to interrupt my latest baseball post and I realize that some readers will not like what I say; I might even get some hate mail as I have gotten it for much less but here it goes.

It seems that the Roman Catholic Church is finally making some changes to policy and possibly Canon Law to ensure that clergy that are convicted of sexual assault, rape or pedophilia receive faster censure or maybe even punishment in the Church outside of what various national or state governments do.  Of course this came after years, albeit decades of chicanery where the Church either through omission or commission aided and abetted many of the men suspected, charged or convicted of sexual abuse, assault or other crimes against children as well as adults entrusted to their spiritual and sometimes their physical care.  It is a policy decision that moves in the right direction but seems to be perfunctory and in light of the actions of the church hierarchy over many decades to cover up crimes committed by clergy seem hollow and unrepentant and an insult to victims who still desire justice even as the Vatican continues to fight to keep clergy from being prosecuted by the courts of various nations.  To make matters worse it uses the same letter to equate the ordination of women as a “major crime against the Church” or in other words equivalent to pedophilia, child sexual abuse and a host of other crimes whose victims cry out for justice.  I just don’t get it.

Now before the reader thinks that I am on an anti-Catholic crusade be assured I am most assuredly not. I find even with all of its faults as well as recent retrenchment on many initiatives that were once heralded by Catholics and Protestants alike, much to be commended in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact in the late 1990s I explored the possibility of “crossing the Tiber” and wrote two very orthodox and even serious articles on the Church in the New Oxford Review. Those articles actually got me banned from writing for several years by a former Archbishop in my church who is now coincidently a Roman Catholic Layman who writes for Catholic Online.  Back then stuff was too Catholic for him, seems almost like Karma to me, now he defends the Curia and I question it.  Things have changed over the years.  Many of my closest friends in ministry have been and are Roman Catholic Priests, many of who feel as I do and fear retribution if they speak up on any of this.  Needless to say I am dumbfounded at the statements and actions coming out of the Vatican or directly from Pope Benedict XVI.  It almost seems that these actions and statements occur on a weekly basis. If you ask me such statements and attitudes make the Church hierarchy appear to be defensive, vengeful, arrogant, isolated, vindictive, petty and completely unaware of how these actions make the Church look to a watching world.  But then I wonder if they really care about this.

To be honest I don’t know what to make of this. The Church has survived 2000 years or so and survived a lot worse crisis than it is experiencing in this new millennium however it seems that the present administration in the Vatican has built a wall to “protect” itself from actual accountability and responsibility for the criminal acts of some of its clergy which in turn victimizes the victims of these men again and again.  The whole attitude and action seems without grace and heartless despite the formal statements from the Pope and other prelates, however as my old sophomore football coach Duke Pasquini used to say “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  Words are cheap and the Vatican’s failure to first discipline its own and second to turn them over to the state for temporal judgment is arrogance that Jesus would have condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees for, not what he expects of his Church to practice.  Actions speak louder than words and the Vatican’s actions damn it in the eyes of a watching world and this friends  is nothing to rejoice over or gloat about even for those that have an ax to grind against the church.  It is cause mourning for it taints people’s view of God in a decidedly negative way both believers and unbelievers, God gets the blame more often than not for the sins of his people.  If Benedict is serious about wanting a leaner church he will get it as ordinary Catholics, especially in the west will vote with their feet leaving only those that agree with this perverted view of the Church’s role in the world.

There are two things that I want to note before I end this little essay.  The first was the censure of Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, a renowned theologian, pastor who was considered as a potential Pope.  Schoenborn accused retired Cardinal Angelo Soldano, the former Vatican Secretary of State of blocking investigations requested by him of clerics accused or suspected of criminal sexual activity.  He also said that Soldano had caused “massive harm” when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as “petty gossip” in his Easter sermon.  In censuring Schoenborn the Vatican announced that brother Cardinals could not criticize one another but only the Pope.  I am sorry but when the Church, any church silences dissent and even constructive criticism from its highest ranking prelates then there is a problem because it demonstrates that the leadership views the preservation hierarchy and the rights of the Papal state as more important than the Gospel and justice for the people of God.  Somehow I can hear Jesus call out “woe to you Scribes and Pharisees and all that.”  Rome is burning and the Pope and the Curia continue to try to douse the fire with gasoline.  No wait, napalm it’s stickier and burns better.  They are a disaster.

The second came the same day and in the same document that the Vatican will in making it easier to investigate sexual abuse in the church. The document declared it a Major crime against the Church” to ordain a woman as a Priest. Now this is not new the Vatican has been excommunicating women and those that ordained them for years.  However, declaring it to be a major crime puts it at the same level as pedophilia and other sexual crimes of clergy.  How do they compare?  Oh wait, female Priests put the souls of their parishioners in mortal danger even more so than male Priests who physically, emotionally and sexually abuse those in their charge.

The ordination of women may not be allowed by the Roman Catholic or for that matter my Church but to call it a major crime against the Church and equate it with pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors is abhorrent.  When the Roman Catholic Church hides behind diplomatic immunity as a nation state and claims religious persecution when someone inside or outside of its walls calls it to account it shows a cold and ruthless face to the world.  It says that it wants to punish those guilty of such heinous crimes but at the same time it shields them from criminal prosecution by the state without providing any discipline of its own.  The Vatican claims to be a state with all the rights and privileges thereof but refuses to put these criminals in its own jails and punish them.  In fact I say hire more Swiss Guards, open up a jail in the basement of the Vatican do a little rendition and torture in some third world dictatorship put them on the Papal G5 send them to Rome and give these criminals a life sentence in the catacombs somewhere.  Well that won’t happen so were left with the Vatican continuing to protect the guilty and if it does anything try them in ecclesiastical courts which do nothing more than mete out spiritual judgments that do absolutely nothing to help the victims.

Jesus I’m sure would be really welcome especially by hanging out with people like Mary Magdalene and even the Apostle Paul who seemed to allow women to have a lot of authority in places that he visited, people like Lydia in Philippi as well as Priscilla of Priscilla and Aquila fame. Interestingly enough many commentators and Scripture Scholars believe that Priscilla may have written the book of Hebrews and some make a very convincing case for this.  My Lord it is no wonder that people don’t want to have anything to do with the Christian faith when the mother Church of the west engages in such activities.

I really don’t know what to say when Catholics come to me about such things because I do not ever want to be accused of leading Catholics away from their Church or faith. As an Anglo-Catholic with strong pro-Roman leanings I encourage them to stay and be salt and light knowing that all Papacy’s end and magisterial eras come and go and that the Church has somehow made it 2000 years through worse crisis than the current day.  That is cold comfort to them and I wish that I could do better but it is what it is and unfortunately Rome continues to burn as the Pope and Curia call for more napalm with which to further engulf the church that they pretend to defend.  It seems that they are about to destroy the church in order to save it and I cannot understand where that fits in the context of God’s love and care for his people, especially the lost, the least and the lonely, those whose prayers like those of the sinner versus the Pharisee are heard by God.  God help the Roman Catholic Church and even more those victimized by its clergy in such ungodly ways.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban

Gordon rides the bomb copyGordon Klingenschmitt in all his glory: Ride ’em Cowboy!

Note:  Please know that I am not attacking historic, Evangelical Christianity, nor Christians, Evangelical or otherwise who live their faith proclaiming the Gospel in this post.  Nor am I attacking anyone’s right to deeply held political beliefs.  This post focuses on Gordon Klingenschmitt and others like him who make their living by lying about others using character assassination, the promotion of sedition, secession and pray for the deaths of their political opponents.  Peaceful, law abiding protest and dissent are indispensable in our country.  Likewise the New Testament teaching of Jesus to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is antithetical to what Klingenschmitt and the Klingenban are now doing. Unfortunately this bright but unstable man promotes himself in the crassest manner. Though he says what he is doing is for Jesus, it is readily apparent that he is not proclaiming Jesus but himself.    His lies and distortions have become legendary, yet he is a media darling of the Uber-Right.  So please, if you are a conservative Christian, Protestant or Catholic who lives a life upholding the Gospel, love your neighbor, living peaceably with others this does not apply to you. It applies to those who have been so consumed by hatred for the political and religious left that rules of good behavior, respectful dialogue and public decency have been abandoned.  They have been defined by and are now more faithful to extreme right wing political ideology than the Christian faith.  For literary purposes I will refer to them by naming them after their most prominent figure:  Former Chaplain disgraced Naval Officer, convicted criminal professional malcontent and protester Gordon J. Klingenschmitt.  His followers are the Klingenban.

“One-Minute Prayer: Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”  The Prayer of Gordon Klingenschmitt

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Matthew 5:44  Jesus Christ

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  Romans 13:1-2

There are two types of religious Fundamentalists who exist in every religion including Atheism and Secularism, which can for some have an almost religious quality.  There are those who while having and proclaiming their beliefs treat their opponents with respect, love and care.  These folks live their faith, treat others as they would want to be treated, understand that others, even if they believe them to be wrong and maybe even “Hell-bound” still have a right to their beliefs and equal treatment under the law.  In fact many of our nation’s most respected figures have been just these kinds of people.  They have helped make the United States a place where anyone can live peacefully and have the chance to better their lives while contributing to the general welfare of the nation.  They do not seek or desire that the Government take the side of any religious group.  In fact the religious liberty provision in the Bill of Rights was the result of Virginia Baptists who were being discriminated against by the Anglican Church which at the time was the State Church in Virginia.  These Baptists went to James Madison and presented their case and Madison included this in the Bill of Rights.  This was an extremely important event in the life of our Nation.  People forget that almost all of the original 13 colonies, save Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had established “State Churches.”  Eventually these all were disestablished, the last being the Congregational Church in Massachusetts in the 1830s. The second type is the radical Fundamentalist.  As I said these exist in every religion, even those religions which acknowledge no God. In recent times the focus has been on Moslem Extremists such as Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, radical Iranian Ayatollahs and other radical Moslem groups.  Likewise there are extremes in Judaism, Hinduism and other religions.  Some atheists and secularists too have had their moments of insanity.

Italy Afghanistan Commander KilledMullah Omar: Klingenschmitt’s Kindred Spirit

The common thread that runs through all of these groups is that they want to be in control of the government wherever they are and enforce their interpretation of their beliefs on others.  They are bullies of the faith.  What they cannot convince you to agree with you on they will push the state to do.  If the state is unwilling then be it through democratic process or hostile takeover they attempt to control the state and by doing so inflict their tyranny on others.  Europe had a long history of this. It has occurred elsewhere in the world.  In 1979 it was on full display when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers helped topple the Shah of Iran and then forced more secular reformers out of the government imposing their version of Islamic law.  While not to the same degree we have seen similar things happen in the United States both before and after our founding.  The Plymouth Bay Colony, which we are taught was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was just that.  It was founded so that these colonists could be free from the Church of England and be the State Church.  They were so heavy handed with dissenters that Roger Williams escaped, swimming the Narragansett to found the colony of Rhode Island. This became the first colony to guarantee religious freedom.  Secularists in Revolutionary France conducted routine religious purges.  Radical Hindus in India routinely target Christians and Moslems as well as Hindus of lower castes.   All of this was or is done with the active cooperation or tacit approval of the state.  If given the chance to actually influence policy Klingenfraud and his ilk would impose draconian measures on anyone who disagrees with them.

Yet, Klingenschmitt and the Klingenban exemplify this some of the most radical and compromised people who claim the name “Christian.”  Klingenschmitt’s prayer while unusually bold faced is not an uncommon belief among this radical fringe.  Numerous preachers re-interpret Romans 13: 1-7 180 degrees from what Paul and the early Church believed.  They seem to forget that Paul lived his life in the Roman Empire, which for Christians who were called atheists because they refused to call Caesar “Lord” were persecuted and killed.  Paul included.  Yet at no time do we see Paul telling Christians to take up the sword or to rebel against the Empire.  They died not for political power but for their faith which they refused to compromise.  The early church was known for their peaceful response to their tormentors. The Epistle to Diognetus writes of the Christians’ response to the hatred they received stating that Christians: “…love those who hate them.”  Tertullian in the Apology writes of Christian loyalty stating that Christians “…call upon God for the safety of the Emperor…” and that believers should know from Scripture “…that a superfluity of benevolence is enjoined on us, even so far as to pray God for our enemies and to entreat blessings for our persecutors.”  Such responses are far from those of the Klingenban.

In opposition to the early Church the Klingenban seek political power and the negation of those that oppose them.  Thus we see Klingenschmitt’s excoriation and prayer for the death of Michael Weinstein and Barry Lynn.  Additionally we see the calls for Christians to be prepared to use violence to resist the state.  Such attitudes in effect baptize behaviors that are not merely un-Christian but anti-Christian.  Praying for the death of people because they insult or demean you is not a Christian attitude.  It flies in the face of Jesus’ words on the Cross:  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  It is as self seeking as those who came to this continent seeking religious liberty only for themselves and those willing to submit to them.

Klingenschmitt in practice actively question the faith of those who disagreed with him during his Navy career.  I know of a Priest in a conservative Anglican church who while in seminary elected to go to the Norfolk Chapel to discuss the Navy Chaplaincy with a Navy Chaplain.  He met with Klingenschmitt who instead of discussing what it was to be a Chaplain insinuated that the man was “unsaved.”  Accordining to crew members who served with him on the USS Anzio he accosted those who were not his definition of Christian. He harrassed sailors when they returned to the ship from liberty. Instead of looking out for the mulitude of religious needs and protecting the religious liberty of his sailors, Klingenschmitt used his time in the Navy to advance his own agenda.   Chaplains are mandated to protect the First Ammendment rights of men and women who away from home and away from thier religious tradition. They are also called to care for those with no religious beliefs.  In both cases the requirement is to protect the religious rights of our sailors, not to advance our own agenda.  We actually sign a statement when we come in the Navy that we will do this.  His commanding officer gave him every chance and gave him more personal time that most commanding officers would ever give to a Chaplain, hoping to help him.  For his efforts Klingenschmitt ensured that his commanding officer’s name was smeared in the right-wing media machine.  He did the same to the Commanding Officer of the Naval Station Norfolk.  Klingenschmitt spread such demented lies about this man that he was shunned by his church and pastor because they elected to believe the right wing media machine.  It shows that if you repeat a lie often enough that people will believe it.  Klingenschmitt is a bully and he was rightfully court-martialed after he refused non-judicial punishment for failing to obey a legal order not to wear his uniform at a political event, something that no-one in the military is allowed to do.  He made life hell for us who served honorably and rather then submit to authority he avoided combat by bad mouthing his country, the Navy and his corps.  He took your tax dollars and for months avoided providing ministry to any sailor or Marine.  This was solely a result of his actions.  While hundreds of Evangelical Christian Chaplains deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served honorably in combat, Klingenschmitt made up story after story to keep himself in the news. He even still refers to mhimself as “Chaplain” because the group which re-ordained him after being defrocked has endoresed him as “Chaplain to America.”  His website shows him in uniform protesting outside of the White House at the end of his hunger strike in 2006.

Klingenschmitt now markets himself as a victim of persecution, when in fact he brought everything on himself.  In his last days as an officer, no longer a chaplain as his own Church had stripped him of both his ordination and endorsement to serve as a chaplain while waiting discharge.  In spite of this one of his political allies in the Republican Party got Klingenschmitt invited to pray in uniform at the 2006 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) Presidential Banquet at which the Vice President was scheduled to speak.  I saw the notice online and promptly complained to the committee the day before the event about this as a Chaplain telling them that it “insulted all who served honorably.” I also let the Norfolk Naval Station Chaplain know what was going on.  A call from the Commanding Officer of the base to the Chief of Naval Operations persuaded this political group not to let him attend the dinner or pray.  Instead Klingenschmitt waited until the banquet was over and facing an nearly empty auditorium in his Service Dress Blue uniform prayed “in Jesus Name.”  His photo at the podium was published in an article the next day on World Net Daily.  The article obfuscated the fact that the conference had ended when he did this and the headline made it look like he had prayed there with CPACs blessing.  Since then he has made his living in the margin of the far right speaking to churches and far right political groups and protesting wherever he can to keep some measure of media attention on him.

homelss jobless cluelessThe Gordon Klingenschmitt Tour 2007

He, his allies and followers are no different than the Taliban except that they wear suits and not robes.  Their agenda is eerily similar and should they ever gain control of this country they would bring in the worst type of persecution.  Thankfully I think there is little chance of this, but they will still do everything they can to incite trouble and even violence.  Klingenschmitt has prayed for the death of those opposing him, a group ran an advertisement in a Pennsylvania newspaper that said they wanted President Obama to meet the fate of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.  Klingenschmitt’s allies actively twist and obfuscate the truth in order to advance their cause at the expense of those who oppose them.  Klingenschmitt’s willing accomplice in the media Joseph Farah openly encourages military members to disobey orders because he does not feel that the President is eligible for the office.  Unfortunately he is doing this in war, and if it were not for the tolerance of the Administration would be tried for sedition.  This is something that Abraham Lincoln had no problem doing in the Civil War.  Farah is opening promoting sedition in time of war, this is a crime.  Conservatives were outrages when members of the Left did such things during the Vietnam war and the current war.   Klingenschmitt, Farah and those like them will not only bring harm to others, but they will continue to discredit the Christian faith by everything they do.  If they were not serious it would e funny.  Klingenschmitt and the Klingenban are dangerous to all who believe in liberty and for the principles on which the United States was founded.

Finally, I know that there are many honest people who have been taken in by Klingenschmitt and his media spin machine.  I encourage you to read for yourselves more about this man from sources other than his website and his allies who parrot what he says. Please know that I was a conservative Republican and worked for Gerald Ford’s campaign before I could vote.  I harbor no animus to conservatives who oppose the Democratic Administration and Congress.  The fact is that principled and respectful conservative opposition is needed, just as principled and respectful liberal Democratic opposition was needed when Republicans controlled the Presidency and Congress.  Klingenschmitt and the Klingenban’s actions are neither principled nor respectful.  Unfortunately they will attempt to destroy the country to save it.  God help us all.

Peace, Steve+

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