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Ash Wednesday 2017

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, which thankfully is far shorter than baseball season, even though it will drag on into the second week of the season, but such is life, and Lent.

Lent is an ancient season of the church, going back to around the Council of Nicea, 325 CE. It is celebrated, though better said “observed” by a majority of Christians, though some evangelical Protestants do little to recognize it. The season is better observed than celebrated as it is a season of penitence.

Lent is technically 40 days long, though it is really 46 days long, but the Sundays don’t count. Call it fuzzy calendar math done to match Biblical accounts of the 40 days of the great flood and Noah’s Ark, the 40 years spent by the Israelites doing laps around Mount Sinai, and the 40 days spent by Jesus in the desert being tempted by Satan, but the forty days actually span 46 calendar days.

It begins today, which is Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy, or Maundy Thursday, which begins the Easter Triduum. It is marked by times of fasting, and abstinence, as well as personal reflection, penance, charity, and renewed focus on our spiritual lives.

That being said, I don’t do Lent well. It is a time that I struggle, and since I returned from Iraq a period in which I have experienced some of my deepest depression and crisis. I thoroughly dislike the season and not because of its profound theological and spiritual significance and benefit. On the contrary, I believe that everything that is a part of Lent, the fasting, abstinences, prayer, reflection, penance, and works of charity is good; they can help keep us grounded in the world and our community.

That being said, I still thoroughly dislike the season because I struggle so much emotionally during it, probably because Lent usually falls not long after the anniversary of my return from Iraq. So my dislike for Lent, and my struggle during it is more coincidental than it is actually based on any real objections to it.

That being said once Lent begins I cannot wait for it to end. I still do my best to observe the fasting and abstinence, and over the past few years I have really worked on being a better person, and to attempt to fulfill the commands that Jesus said surmised the law, to love God and love my neighbor. The first one of those is hard because there are times during Lent that more than any time of the year I struggle with the very existence of God. The second, to love my neighbor is less of a struggle, though some people really push my limits. Likewise, over the past year if I say I will pray for someone I tend to do it, and if they are in need I try my best to help in some tangible way.

So today I will be conducting my last Ash Wednesday service during my assignment at the Staff College. This will be a somewhat bittersweet as I found my assignment there to be the most fulfilling of all of mine since I served in Iraq, without all the emotional baggage and struggles with PTSD, TBI, and the associated symptoms of them, the depression, anxiety, night terrors, insomnia, fear of crowds, and thoughts of death. Thankfully, I am doing better, and have managed to get through he past couple of weeks after the ninth anniversary of my return from Iraq without crashing, though a few times I felt the shadow of depression casting its pall over me. Thankfully, as of yet, I haven’t crashed, and hope not to, although I know that I will breath a deep sigh of relief once we get past Easter.

But going back to Lent, if it is to have the kind of impact it should, in our lives it cannot simply be our struggle with God, it also has to encompass a commitment to those around us and to our world. That means doing more than talking, doing more than praying, but actively participating in the lives of others, even those with whom we have adversarial relationships. As Hans Kung noted: “In the last resort, a love of God without love of humanity is no love at all.”

So anyway, I wish the best for all of you today, and if you observe Lent, I pray and trust that it will be beneficial to your life, and to those you know. Likewise, I ask you to pray for me, a sinner.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Heaven, Hell, Homosexuals & Kim Davis: The Pandora’s Box of Political Religion

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Kim Davis Greeting Supporters (above) Her Pastor Below

kim davis pastor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Kim Davis, the recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky has now decided that the reason that she cannot issue marriage licenses to Gays is that it is a heaven or hell decision, in other words, if she complies with the court order she will quite possibly go to hell. Actually as a theologian and historian I find this fascinating, and regardless of what happens next in this sorry saga, we must remember the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard “But she, or someone like her, will always be with us. Waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness….”

Davis, who was elected to the office last November, following her mother who held the office for the 37 years prior, makes $80,000 a year to serve as the Country Clerk and one of her big duties is issuing marriage licenses to citizens of the county. The only problem is that Marriage Equality is the law and gays are entitled to the full rights of all citizens based on a Supreme Court ruling which said that based on the 14th Amendment that Gays, like all other American Citizens were legally entitled to the same rights as all other citizens. Likewise it appealed to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. By refusing the recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky is in violation of the law. However, because she is an elected official she cannot be fired. She can only be impeached by a state legislature whose members need the votes of her supporters in the state. 

Mrs. Davis is an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. Her Church, Morehead First Apostolic Church belongs to the United Pentecostal Church International. This denomination is one of the early Pentecostal denominations in the United States, founded in 1905 during the Pentecostal Awakening. It split from another Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God over the issue of the Godhead. The United Pentecostals reject the traditional understanding of Trinitarian Christianity. Their theology is Monotheistic and they interpret the references to Father, Son and Holy as modes in which God reveals himself. In other words, God was the Father, and then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit.

According to mainstream Christianity since the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. the theology of the United Pentecostals was considered heretical, by all Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. This means, and I hate to be a theological hard ass here, but technically, they are not Christian, because they worship a different God. Now personally, I am not such a hard ass and believe that God forgives a lot of bad theology, even my own; but the United Pentecostals don’t, and here is where it gets really interesting.

The United Pentecostal Church believes that in order for a person to be “saved” that they must first repent of their sins. No problem there, I think repentance is a good thing. Next one must be baptized, and here is where it gets tricky. If you are not baptized “In Jesus’ Name” your baptism doesn’t count. Sorry all you folks that were baptized “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” you may have repented but you are not saved and yes you are heading for that eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire, so don’t forget your asbestos water skis.

But that’s not all my friends; to Kim Davis and the United Pentecostals you must also be baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of Speaking in Tongues. If not, by their doctrine you are going to hell, and don’t forget to go to bathroom first because it is “damnation without relief” and if you do not go it will be a very uncomfortable eternity. But wait there’s still more…. Even if you a member of these churches, like Kim Davis is and you make it through those first three gates, you can still go to hell; you have to Persevere to the End, that means that she must wear those frumpy clothes, no makeup or jewelry, and avoid doing sinful things and that is kind of tricky because there are so many ways to screw up. No wonder she is afraid of going to hell for doing the duties required by the law.

I find it fascinating that Mrs. Davis and her supporters are so hell bent on making sure that homosexuals cannot get married, or enjoy the same rights as other citizens and condemn homosexuals all to hell based on their interpretation of the Bible. Interestingly enough many of her big supporters are Trinitarian Evangelicals and other Conservative Christians, who by doctrine Kim Davis and the United Pentecostal Church does not consider Christians.

This is the fascinating part. Her biggest defenders and her lawyers are all Trinitarian Christians who Kim Davis and her church believe are going to hell, at least which is what their doctrine says, and these wonderful Trinitarian Christians are so full of animosity to homosexuals that they will defend a person who believes that they too are going to hell with those horrible homosexuals. Imagine, if Kim Davis and her church are right, Mat Staver, lawyer from Liberty Counsel will be sunning himself on the banks of the Lake of Fire with the homosexual that he so loathes, and I hope he takes some tanning oil. The irony is rich, but I digress….

You see this is the problem when you decide to let theologically and historically ignorant religious fanatics run government. But that is the morass that conservative Christians in the United States have created for themselves. Ever since the 1970s when Jerry Falwell began the charge the situation has got increasingly stickier with every passing year. Odd alliances are made by groups who all believe that they have to only way to salvation and that all others are going to hell. The problem is that this alliance cannot hold. Should the Religious Right ever get control they will start persecuting each other in the areas that they are strongest, because it is an alliance of convenience and in their hearts they despise each other almost as much as they do the gays. It will Balkanize and fracture our society beyond belief; but then who cares so long as our religion wins.

Robert Heinlien observed, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” That is what Davis and her backers want, if they cannot stop the law they want legal authority to disobey it while getting paid to administer it as government officials.

Is it no wonder that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others of our founding fathers were so adamant about separating church and state? Madison said why this is so necessary, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” And why Conservative Atheist Christopher Hitchens remarked “How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

Mrs. Davis can hold whatever religious views that she desires, and she can chose to worship the God of her choice and take her chances on landing in hell or heaven. However, her duties as an officer of the government require her to carry out the law. If she cannot carry out the law her choice is to resign. She has no right to be paid by the government and then substitute her religious beliefs for law she is to carry out, and thereby sabotage the law, which is meant for all citizens. Since she is unlikely to resign, cannot be fired, and most likely will not be impeached, there is no remedy for the citizens of Rowan County, none of who are able to get a marriage license. It reminds me of the days when White officials in the South defied Congress and the Courts to defend Jim Crow Laws in the 1959s and 1960s. 

Let’s turn this around for a second and put Mrs. Davis standing at the counter trying to get a marriage license following one of her three divorces. Imagine how Mrs. Davis would have felt if some hard-assed Trinitarian Catholic Christian denied her application for a marriage license due to her three divorces, and his belief that divorce was a mortal sin and that to issue a marriage license violated his religious beliefs.

That my friends is the path that Mrs. Davis and her supporters are taking us down. It is the path where a personal belief trumps the law, and one’s duty as an officer of the government to carry out that law.

Mrs. Davis needs to resign, or face the consequences. She will be considered a martyr for a cause by people who she, if she actually believes the teachings of her church, are going to go to hell alongside of the homosexuals that they are defending her from. I love that irony, and since Davis and many of her supporters would probably beleive that I am going to be damned for my support of the civil rights of Gays then I will have to agree with Captain Jean Luc Picard who once said “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”

Make it so…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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