Tag Archives: c s lewis

Success, Depression & Empathy

chicken of depression

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just finished reading a biography of the late Iris Chang, who wrote the book The Rape of Nanking and A History of the Chinese in America. She was a brilliant, caring, and passionate women who had a major depressive crash and ended up committing suicide. She wrote her mother about her feelings when Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts died, the night before the final Sunday comic came out. She wrote her mom:

Dear Mom,

I think it was Charles Schulz’s pessimism – as well as his ability to understand human failure, insecurity, heartbreak – that made millions love Peanuts.

You’re absolutely right, Schulz had no reason whatsoever to be depressed, after achieving wealth and fame at such an early age. But depression is not rational. Perhaps he did have a mental problem, or some chemically induced condition. But whatever it was, it prevented him from losing touch with the underdogs of the world.

It’s strange, but I still feel a void in my heart after Schulz’s death – even though I never knew him and didn’t particularly like him after meeting him in person, It made me wonder, what is the secret to Schulz’s magical appeal?

The answer, I believe, is simple. Schulz understands the heart of a loser. He captures those moments in life when we fell utterly unloved, unwanted, and alone. And all of us – no matter how successful- have felt like losers at some point in life.

Love, Iris

(From The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and After The Rape of Nanking, a memoir by Ying-Ying Chang, Pegasus Books, New York, 2013)

The book intrigued me and I was drawn to Iris’s story, and was so impressed with her as a person, and having suffered major depression myself, felt a certain kinship with her as I read the book, especially the chapters dealing with her success, and her collapse.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have struggled a lot with major depression, anxiety, and even have occasionally been suicidal since returning from Iraq in 2008 with one hell of a case of PTSD. Thankfully over the past couple of months I have been doing pretty well. While I still suffer chronic insomnia, really weird dreams, nightmares, and night terrors, as well as anxiety in crowed places and flashbacks; but I have not been chronically depressed. I have had a few down days, but nothing like the past number of years. So all in all I think that is a good thing, I am starting to get back in better physical shape, eating better, and losing weight, so all in all I count that in the win column.

That being said, since Iraq I have developed a tremendous amount of empathy for those that suffer from depression, because it is not a rational disease. It affects millions of people in our country, and I am not referring to people who once in a while get the blues or feel a bit down, but people who live their lives in a state of clinical depression. I have known a lot of people who suffer from depression. Most are tremendously talented, witty, charming, intelligent, and caring. I have known very successful people who suffer from such depression that they cannot appreciate their own achievements and feel like failures. I have known some who have committed suicide because they saw no hope for themselves and believed that the world would be better off without them. I have friends who walk this path today, people who are battling to stay alive.

Likewise, many of my heroes, my role models, have suffered from depression, even lifelong depression. These include Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln, and T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Sadly, most people, especially religious people have little long term tolerance for depressed people. If the depressed person does not get better, they abandon them, sometimes in very cruel ways.

In a Peanuts strip Charlie Brown goes to Lucy and says, “I have deep feelings of depression… What can I do about this?” Lucy does what is so common in our culture and says “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” The fact is that if you are chronically depressed or suffer from clinical depression, you don’t simply snap out of it and I think that depression and mental pain is harder to bear than physical pain. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Problem of Pain:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

The reality is that depression is not rational, nor is it logical, and thus it defies the attempts of well-meaning people to help those who suffer from it. You can tell a depressed person to get involved in activities, to stay busy, work harder, to read their Bible or pray more, but most of the time this only makes things worse. The depressed person tries them and does not get better which makes the depression and feeling of failure even worse. I know this because I lived it, I did all those things. I worked harder, prayed more, and the rest of that, and I only got worse. Then I began to lose hope. It was terribly frightening and very few people understood, and even fewer stood by me. Those who did were mainly my drinking buddies and friends from the Norfolk Tides and Kinston Indians ballparks, not clergy, or chaplains. 

This makes it terribly frustrating for all concerned. The depressed person ends up feeling alone, lost, isolated, and rejected when the friends, family, and caregivers give up.

I think to me the hardest thing is that for those of us who serve in caring professions, the clergy, mental health care, medicine, and nursing; is that when we struggle there is often no-one to go to. When I was absolutely falling apart after Iraq, my new commanding officer asked me “where does a chaplain go to get help?” and I said “I don’t know, but not to other chaplains.” I know that I said that in the abyss of total despair, and that there are a couple of chaplains that I can go to and pour out my heart without fear of rejection, but they are the minority. The fact is that many caregivers, especially clergy, have no empathy for those most like them. I know this because I have known and seen so many clergy, across the denominational and theological spectrum who have been broken by the cares of life, and been abandoned by their churches and their peers.

But like, Iris Chang, I do think that some, people like Charles Schulz, the depression they live enables them not to lose touch with those who suffer, that in a sense that their suffering engenders a great empathy for others that many lack. I have been told by some that I have that kind of empathy and if I do it is not because I am such a great person, but rather because I have suffered and still suffer from the pain, and despite my own accomplishments, and achievements, that I still occasionally feel like a loser or failure. But as far as my condition goes, I am oddly comforted by the words of Raymond “Red Reddington (James Spader) in The Blacklist:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And everyday when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I know my ongoing battle will continue, but I have determined to try to be there for others that struggle with pain that does not want to go away, and nightmares that never seem to end. As the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, mental health, ministry

Another Year on the Margins of the Church

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Little Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over seven years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

The process of return took me to the margins of the faith that I knew and grew up in. For a while I felt like a victim, but over the course of the years I have discovered a tremendous freedom in living on the margins of the church. Jamake Highwater wrote something that really struck me as true:

“What outsiders discover in their adventures on the other side of the looking glass is the courage to repudiate self-contempt and recognise their “alienation” as a precious gift of freedom from arbitrary norms that they did not make and did not sanction. At the moment a person questions the validity of the rules, the victim is no longer a victim.”

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Christians punishing other Christians for having views that they do not agree is so common. Last week a Chaplain of a Nazarene college was fired for questioning Christian support for war in the wake of the movie American Sniper. Sadly most of the time that Christians are condemned by other Christians it is not even for any of major doctrinal beliefs found in the Creeds, the great Ecumenical Councils of the Church, or even of the various Confessions or Statements of Faith of any denomination. Instead they usually have to with unpopular stands on political or social issues. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love which I think describes this type of Christian persecution: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have a number friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

I have written a lot about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said something similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

 

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

Likewise, I have become much more outspoken in defending those who are the targets of real Christian hate, in particular the LGBT community, unbelievers, especially atheists and agnostics and Moslems. That may seem odd, but really, if we as Christians do not show God’s love to them, just how do we expect that they will embrace what we believe?

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

bloom-county-liberal-label-1

Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out. Living on the margins of American Christianity beats the hell out of living within the hateful, greedy and oppressive structures that permeate our American Christian landscape.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, LGBT issues, ministry, philosophy, political commentary, Religion

The Freedom of Living on the Margins of American Christianity

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Littlest Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over six years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have many friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

Last night I wrote about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said somethings similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

bloom-county-liberal-label-1

Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

The Predictable Unpredictability of Revolution and the Christian Call to Reconciliation

Revolutions often end with one Tyranny replacing another

“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.” Adolf Hitler

We are living in revolutionary times. When we look around the world and down the street we cannot help but notice the flames of revolution burning. While we are focused on the amazing revolutions going on in the Arab World there is revolution brewing in the United States. Revolution that has been stoked on the airwaves and in cyberspace against ineffective government and political parties concerned more about their power and financial institutions that have devastated our economy for years as is hitting our state capitals as the country lurches deeper into economic and social crisis.

“Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” Barbara  Tuchmann

Many good and honorable people are part of a new revolutionary movement in the United States but such movements sometime morph into the very thing that they protest when unscrupulous people take them over. (Reuters photo)

Whether actual revolutions that have been relatively peaceful in Tunisia and Egypt to ones where those in power have resorted to deadly force such as Libya and Iran as well as those in their incipient stages they are forerunners of many more to come. Just count the countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas where for a variety of reasons protests, dramatic political change and revolts erupt threatening the old order. Be it the overthrow of despots in the Middle East, calls for a Jasmine revolution in China, economic collapse in various European Union countries that cause massive electoral shifts that threaten the breakup of that union, narco-anarchy in Mexico or chaos in U.S. State Capitals all signs tell us that we have entered a new age of revolution. Likewise the talk of revolution is everywhere even in the United States where some in the Tea Party movement call for a revolution against the status quo in Washington D.C. and against the growth and power of the Federal Government.

“The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement – but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims.” Joseph Conrad

The one constant about revolutions is that they unpredictable even those that begin with the most altruistic of motives. Likewise in many cases those who begin the revolutions often become the victims of those that come after them. That is a fact from history and it is often true that as Barbara Tuchmann said “Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” That is the danger that is faced as we enter this revolutionary era.

It is always cool to see tyrants fall and for people to have a chance to be free, but unfortunately evil always lurks in the hearts of those who seek to exploit the revolution for their own power’s sake. No movement is immune from this threat and those who are convinced of their own righteousness and rightness of their cause are very likely to take up the mantle of tyranny that they helped overthrow.

Larry Klayman who writes for World Net Daily made this comment in a recent opinion piece on that site:

“What establishment governmental institution will hold our judges, legislators and even the president accountable to the “rule of law”? The answer is none! It’s all one happy club of “establishment felons,” who, whether Democrat or Republican, play the game, scratch each others’ backs and feed at the huge trough of government money and favors.

It’s the establishment, stupid – whether it’s in the good ol’ USA, Cairo or Tripoli – that has ruled the school. And “we the peons,” are given the crumbs that are left after the establishment pillages, rapes, perverts and destroys the at one time noble institutions of government that were created by and for the people.

Thousands of years ago, a revolutionary in the Holy Land confronted a similar total breakdown of values, ethics and the rule of law. He confronted corruption in the highest places of government – before his fellow clergy, the Jewish high priests and the Roman Forum – and did so fearlessly. He paid with his life, and his name was Jesus Christ.

Our rotting and diseased institutions need to be attacked legally and, I am sorry to say, torn down – and then built back up again into the “faithful city of Jerusalem.” While I do not advocate violence – indeed, Jesus never resorted to this – we must urgently find other ways such as civil disobedience to wage a new revolution. We cannot be afraid, and we must act immediately. Because our nation and the planet stand on the precipice of complete chaos and extinction. And, unless we rid it of the vermin who inhabit and have seized our establishment institutions as their own, and reform these corrupt institutions, we will soon perish. The American people did their first house cleaning in our first Revolution.

Now it’s time to bring on the second! If even the Arabs, who have no history of democracy and freedom, can do it, then why can’t we?” Larry Klayman: If Arabs can Revolt why can’t We? 27 February 2011 retrieved from World Net Daily http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=268289

While the  Revolution in Egypt was mostly peaceful no one is sure exactly how it will end

Klayman voices the anger of many, maybe not a majority but a significant minority of the American electorate, many of which are conservative Christians, a minority that is becoming more organized daily and is threatening to supplant the establishment Republican Party as the voice of conservatism. Now I have little respect for the two corrupt political parties that have gotten us into this mess but when writers, especially Christians refer to people, even corrupt rulers as vermin is scary. I do think that elected and non-elected officials need to be held accountable but never believe that dehumanizing them by referring to them as “vermin” is wise. Such calls usually mean that when the new order, whatever it is comes to power those in the old order are not just swept away but many times exterminated. One only has to look at history to see that this is the case.

Likewise for them to reduce Jesus Christ to a mere revolutionary who “confronted corruption in the highest places” as Klayman does actually does violence to the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the message of Jesus which was never about his followers changing governments or overthrowing kingdoms by means other than the love of God and the call to be reconciled to God as Paul the Apostle writes “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)

Revolutionary times often bring out the worst aspects of the human condition be it from the oppressors or the revolutionaries themselves. The unbridled passions that underlie revolutions are very difficult to contain. Anger, hatred, envy, distrust, cynicism, disrespect and the dehumanization of opponents only add fire to the legitimately unjust and evil conditions which feed calls for revolution and calls for change and often lead to violence and repression from those that harness the revolutionary spirit for their own ends. Revolution often begets tyranny.  Hitler understood this when he said “if today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution.”

This is the danger zone into which some Christians plunge with wild abandon a zone where some radically depart from the message of reconciliation to the legitimization of violence through their interpretation of Scripture to buttress a political and revolutionary end. Doug Giles who is a commentator at Townhall.com and has his own radio program writes:

“The believer, however, has an insanely powerful arsenal of divinely-inspired dynamite to utilize against unrighteousness and those who propagate it. Yep, Dinky, it’s a prayer against both sin and sinner—the problem and its perpetrator. Theologians call these the imprecatory prayers, or maledictions. I call them Dirty Harry prayers, prayers to pull out and pray when things get bad. Real bad. Prayers you use when a nation’s getting mucked up by degenerate priests or politicos.” Note to Church: Pray Dirty Harry Prayers for Our Nation. Posted July 25, 2009 by nhiemstra in Doug Giles, Townhall.com retrieved 27 February 2011.

Giles uses Scripture to drive home his point but he uses Scripture against Jesus. If I recall correctly Jesus was not about this. He may have pronounced woes upon the religious elite of his time but when they arrested him and abused him he did not protest. He acted in accordance with his instructions to his disciples:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-29a and 25-36 NRSV)

In revolutionary times we are not called to become one with the revolution nor the status quo brought about by corrupt rules, institutions or oppressors. The call of the Church and Christians is to be salt and light and ambassadors of Christ’s call for humanity to be reconciled to God and to one another. It certainly is not a popular position now days as extremists of all types, including Christians throw gasoline on already raging fires.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer so stranger to the evils of revolutionary times and the tyrants that they often beget wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”

“The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”

C. S. Lewis

That call is radically different than almost anything that we hear from politically active “revolutionary” Christians.  One of my regular readers posted a response to an article that I wrote a few days ago. In that response he quoted C. S. Lewis from his book The Screwtape Letters.” The quote which I include here is so appropriate to the spirit of our times and Lewis in one of his typically poignant observations has the demon Screwtape write his nephew Wormwood of how to use Christianity as a means to bring down mankind.

Uncle Screwtape pens his advice

“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.”

Screwtape’s advice seems to have been heeded by many Christians in the United States. Our causes have usurped the faith. Scripture is nothing but a tool to advance the causes that we choose and the politics that we follow.

We do live in interesting times don’t we? Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Lenten Joy

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”  Karl Barth

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Lord deliver us from gloomy saints” Teresa of Avila


Today is the last Friday in Lent and one to reflect on something often forgotten as we get lost in the “necessity” to give up things or do more in our spiritual life.  As one who never enjoyed the Lenten season because I got lost in the legalism of it.  I would become more focused on setting up things to do or to abstain from that were unreasonable and bound to fail no matter how hard I worked to make them work.  Often these were practices that I gleaned from medieval spirituality which focused on the penitential and ascetic aspects of the Christian life which in retrospect only made me more miserable during Lent.  Since I already know that I am a screw up and not very good at many spiritual practices the added “disciplines” were a continual reminder of how screwed up I really am.  This got worse after Iraq dealing with PTSD and all kinds of other issues to the point that last year I did an “un-Lent Lent” avoiding those things but not being very successful in doing better spiritually.

This Lent has been about recovering Joy.  Yes Lent is a penitential season and yes I do examine my conscious and seek to ensure that I go to confession or penitential service.  In fact the acuity of my awareness has gotten better making this less painful than it used to be.  Knowing that I have been able, even when knocked on my ass by a nasty Kidney stone for almost a month have been able to gain something from my Lenten journey, something very spiritual which drew me closer to God and others without a lot of additional religious activity.  For the first time in my life I can say that I have enjoyed Lent.

Part of recovering joy in life is regaining the ability to laugh again and not just with cynical and sarcastic wit.  Instead I have been able to laugh about life, the good and the bad.  As Karl Barth said “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

Laughter and joy have again become central in my life and I wonder how I lived during the darkest parts of the last two years when I despaired of life itself and wondered if God even existed.  Even with all the turmoil in the country and world, which I do take seriously if you are a regular reader, I have been able to live life, do theology, provide pastoral care and write and study history while living in the moment appreciating the grace and forgiveness of God and looking to the future with hope.  I know for some this may sound a bit daft, but I know that things are not great but I also know that somehow God and humanity continue to move forward in relationship to each other.

When I survey some to the pastors, teachers, and “theologians” in print and on the internet I wonder if they have forgotten the essence of life with God.  As the first question in the Westminster Catechism asks “what is the chief end of man?” The proper answer to this question is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Even the disciples of John “I don’t know how to have fun” Calvin got this one right.

Karl Barth hits the nail on the head in dealing with joyless theologians and pastors.  When I was in seminary and since I have ordained I am amazed at the number of joyless people in ministry.  I know that some people get treated like crap by their churches but to remain in ministry while hating it and loathing people strikes me as just sort of self destructive.   Likewise the “theologian” who loathes the work that he has been called to do and the people that he is called to serve.  Barth notes:

“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk—taedium [loathing]—in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1, p. 656.

To have joy in life and rediscover it in a season where even some of the most devout Christians what become immersed in tasks that are meant to bring them closer to God in fact serve to drive them away or become legalistic and unhappy seemingly incapable of knowing joy.  In “giving things up” they also give away the joy and peace of the Lord and the fellowship of his people. Joy should actually serve to remind us of, call us to and awaken us to desire.  C.S. Lewis talked a lot about joy and even wrote a book about it.  He noted in a letter that “All joy…emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

Lent should not be a season where we take the fact that there are no “alleluias” and that many of the symbols of faith in our churches are covered as being a season of sorrow.  If we allow it to become that we miss the point entirely.  The joy that should we experience in life with God and the people that he loves, even in the most mundane and supposedly “unspiritual” undertakings of life is something to be savored.  Joy is part and parcel part of the Christian hope, and merely the hope of the Christian but the hope of humanity in the midst of a world dominated by politicians, pundits, preachers and a media machine that do nothing to inspire but rather play on people’s fears and seek to drive wedges between people who depend upon one another. The Christian faith is about a future grounded in hope and lived in fullness bathed in joy because of what God has done in Christ, instead of dwelling on death it is fixated on life.   As Jürgen Moltmann said “the origin of hope is birth, not death. The birth of a new life is an occasion for hope. The rebirth of lived life is an occasion for even greater hope. And when the dead are raised, they enter into the fulfilled hope of life. The setting for learning hope in life, therefore, is the possibility of starting anew and a new beginning, the true freedom.”


I have entered into a period where I am again experiencing joy in the simplicity and complexity of life lived with people that I have come to love and with whom I hope to share a great future.  With real joy a part of my life I can look to a great future as I turn 50.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Tangled Web of Friends

“I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
– Benjamin Franklin

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”
~ Mark Twain

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.
-Shirley MacLaine

We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.  ~Abraham Lincoln

It is interesting when you have traveled a fair amount and lived in quite a few places you get to know a lot of people from across the social, political, racial and religious spectrum.  In fact my friends are among the most diverse collection of people that anyone that I know.  I was looking on my Facebook.com page recently after a post and noted the diversity of my friends. What was interesting was that they often are very passionate about their particular point of view be it religious, social or political.  After a recent post I realized that in some cases it would not be a good thing to have some of them in the same room as each other as there might be bloodshed.

“To know someone here or there
with whom you can feel
there is understanding
in spite of distances or
thoughts expressed
That can make life a garden.”
~ Goethe

Friendship… is not something you learn in school.But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.
Muhammad Ali

One doesn’t know, till one is a bit at odds with the world, how much one’s friends who believe in one rather generously, mean to one.  ~D.H. Lawrence

The interesting thing is that somehow the lives of this very diverse group of friends somehow intersect mine.  I guess that is part of the life of a moderate.  Now I’m sure in their hearts that some on the Left think that I’m a fundamentalist right fascist with militarist tendencies who is too concerned with the concerns of those on the political right, to which I will admit the militarist tendencies. Some on the right think that I am a leftist, agnostic socialist with militarist tendencies who is far too concerned with the concerns of those on the political left, to which I will admit my militaristic tendencies. However in the case of all my absolute concern with the rights of people on all sides of the political, social and religious spectrum that is the United States of America overrides about everything. While I may have strong opinions on various issues or may not have an opinion whatsoever depending on the issue I do not believe that political, religious or social views should keep me from being friends with anyone. There are some who will disagree with that and a decent number of people that have ended relationships with me over issues that I think are extraneous to friendship but what the hell these is no accounting for taste.  At the same time I have been an ass at times and blown away relationships that should have been cultivated, but there is no accounting for my bad form.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
~ Abraham Lincoln

I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.
-Plutarch

A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked. ~Author Unknown

Despite all of this somehow I stand in the intersection of all of these wonderful people who are my friends going back to childhood.   I guess one thing I’ve learned, often the hard way, is that you can have friendships and care about people even when you have disagreements with them, even serious disagreements because respect and love are more important than necessarily having to agree.  Thus in an era of polarization I believe that as Americans that we need to find ways to get along.  Thus when those on the left suggested leaving the country or persuading the military to lead a coup when George Bush was President and those on the right who advocate the same about President Obama I wonder what the hell they all are thinking.  Now I know that many of my friends are extremely passionate about what they believe regardless of the viewpoint and that those views are very important to them I know that somehow we must find a way to as Rodney King once said “to get along.”  Maybe it is my inner Anglican speaking but somehow I think that we need to find an American Via Media or middle way.

“There is no hope of joy except in human relations.”
~ Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Albert Schweitzer

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival ~C.S. Lewis

My friends include political conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents.  They include Christians from across the spectrum, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical, Social Gospel and Fundamental, Charismatic and anti-Charismatic, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals, Particular Baptists, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Premillenial Dispensationalists and Amillenialists.  Likewise they include Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans and Wiccans and I think even a few believers in the Klingon God Kahless. Also represented are heterosexuals and homosexuals, anti-homosexual activist and pro-homosexual activists, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, militarists and pacifists, capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, industrialists; progressives, traditionalists, white, black, Asian and Hispanic, people from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Korea, Japan and China, India, and Central America, Mississippi and Manhattan, California and Carolina, Dallas and Detroit.   Doctors, lawyers, priests, rabbis and imams; Protestant ministers, labor leaders, teachers, preachers, pundits, poets, politicians, professors and prosecutors; nurses, doctors, scientists; actors, musicians and artists; bureaucrats, technocrats, kleptocrats; geeks, freaks, sailors, jailers, whalers, runners, gunners, fighters, riders, sky divers, scuba divers, truck drivers; guitar players, ball players, naysayers; free thinkers, beer drinkers,  thrill seekers and Methodists.  I have to admit that I stole the Methodist line from Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles.

“There is nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends.”
~ Hillaire Belloc

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
Saint Thomas Aquinas

In all of this, each one of this diverse  including you all in your own way are my friend, some closer than others, but friends none the less. We have shared good times and bad, encouraged each other prayed for each other, laughed together, cried together and even shared some good beer with each other.   We’ve agreed and disagreed, and agreed to disagree.  Yet we are all friends and each of you has added something to my life.  I think Jesus said it well, when he said, “I no longer call you strangers but friends.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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