Tag Archives: god’s love

All that We Are and Can Be: Where Past, Present and Future Meet

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“The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Peter Benchley “Jaws”

St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

It is an interesting question but I think that the question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities.

Many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He did not say to live in the past.

That is something that I have been learning for close to 20 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, using a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter of Time.  In the episode a shadowy visitor claiming to be from the future refuses to help claiming that if he were to help that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally Picard is forced to make a decision and confronts the visitor, who turns out to be a thief from the past using time travel to collect technology to enrich himself. Picard responds:

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

It was in telling me that my future did not have to be my past that opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. We should indeed learn from it, but we cannot remain in it or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that  “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

Since I am a Christian my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Advent and Life: God Loves the Real World

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O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(From O Come O Come Emmanuel) 

Today is the fist Sunday of what we in the liturgical Christian world know as the season of Advent.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is in Baseball. It is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but 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.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

That simple fact is why Christ came.

He didn’t come to found a government. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners.

The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people, even those that some that presume to be his spokesmen and women despise.

In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “war on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.

Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. They simply lived the life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and overcame an empire. It was only when they became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.

The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of us and our need for temporal physical power over others than it is of Jesus.

All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance. Likewise the two things that Jesus said to do in order to “inherit the Kingdom of God” were to “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves,” and similarly the words of the old Testament minor prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” But then there is not much money or political power in that is there?

But despite the inconvenience of a direct temporal profit or power which is so central to most churches, I do think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” is so distasteful to the “for profit prophets” of our time that it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing.

It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Honest Questions About God and Blue Moons

Tonight I walked my little dog Molly to the beach under the light of the Blue Moon. It was a beautiful night, the first without rain or clouds that we have had in the past month. As I walked with her, in the quiet with the noise of the surf in the background I was taken aback by the peace. It was nice to be able to take the time to walk with her and take in all that there was to see, hear and then feel as I felt the cool sand on my feet as we walked to the surf. I needed it.

The past couple of days I have been battling what I think is a combination summer cold and allergic reaction to the vast amount of mold spores in the air due to the very warm and wet weather the past month. I went to bed and woke up with sinus headaches the past three days and this morning had a bit of vertigo. So when I went to work I got in with  one of our doctors. Thankfully I don’t have any ear infection yet and don’t need any antibiotics. However he prescribed a couple of meds to help me with the congestion and told me to use my nasal wash solution.  I have also had my fill of politics this week, it seems that as hard as I try to avoid it the whole political game gets thrown in my face. So tonight I have only had the MLB baseball channel on and tried to avoid news and political commentary of any kind.

While I was waiting for my prescription this afternoon a young Marine Sergeant came in the waiting area and sat down across from me. There were a few others in the area but it was not crowded. At the time I was reading a book from my Kindle on my I-phone and as I glanced up he greeted me. I returned the greeting and out of the blue he asked:

“Do you ever have problems with God?”

I love being around Marines and Sailors because unlike a lot of others young Marines and Sailors, especially those that have been to war are likely to ask hard questions to clergy. There is little pretense among them, something that cannot be said for many clergymen or

I was wearing my service khakis with ribbons and of course being a Christian chaplain I have a gold cross on my left collar and my rank on my right. There is no question in this Marine’s mind that I am a clergyman. I also know that he expects me to be honest with him. I also know that he will know if I am attempting to bullshit him. Marines and Sailors who have been to war have a keen eye for bullshit.

I immediately put down the I-phone and looked at him. I paused acknowledged the question and said:

“To be honest yes, a lot of them.”

He said “I do too” paused for and asked “how do you deal with them?”

I smiled and told him that it was a long story, but gave him the nutshell of how after Iraq I had experienced a crisis in faith and was for all practical purposes an agnostic struggling to believe.

He then asked how I came to believe again. I briefly recounted the story that I refer to as my “Christmas miracle” (See Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle  https://padresteve.com/2009/12/24/padre-steve’s-christmas-miracle/ ) and said that I still sometimes have lots of doubts and questions.

He replied “So do I. I guess that’s why they call it faith.”

About that time his number was called and I gave him my card. He thanked me for listening and went to get his prescription.

I know that some believers are troubled when I express the real fact that I have doubts. But I have found that there are a lot of people like this young Marine Sergeant who just want Priests, pastors, chaplains or Rabbis to simple be honest when it comes to doubt and faith. The Marine Sergeant understood more about faith than a lot of ministers that I know.

It is not about how certain we are but instead about how certain God is in his great love for us that he allows us to doubt.

Admittedly I still struggle. But I still believe, sometimes against all rationality. The great Russian playwright Fyodor Dostoyevsky said something that I can only echo in its depth. “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

I guess that is big part of why I am here.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Day for All Saints even those at the Mendoza Line

Mario Mendoza (above) and St Rita of Cassia the Patron Saint of Baseball

Today is the Feast of All Saints.  This is one of my favorite Feasts in the Liturgical year and one that is  The feast is celebrated in both the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, certain Lutheran Churches, as well as some Wesleyans and Methodist. The feast is celebrated on the First Sunday after Pentecost in the East and on November 1st in the West.  In the Eastern expression it is celebrated in honor of all the Saints, known and unknown while in the West, Particularly the Roman Catholic Church it is dedicated to the Saints who have attained the beatific vision of heaven, kind of like being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame instead of just being a great baseball player.

As a baseball fan I believe that the Orthodox position which honor saints known and unknown is the more accurate of the two because just like baseball some of the most wonderful Saints get to the Hall of Fame.  Even so the sentiments that I have about this feast are unaffected by any such minor differences, the remembrance of those that have gone before me is much greater than any nuance of theology.  After all what would baseball be without Mario Mendoza?* and where would Baseball be without its Patron Saint, St.Rita of Cassia?

But I digress…

When we celebrate All Saints it is the life of the people of God that we celebrate; the small and the great, the pious, the brilliant, the heroic and the chaste among them and us.  Yes we celebrate those faithful yet fallible and all too human people the litter the calendar of saints and those that never got on anyone’s calendar.  While some may have been models of piety many were not going right back to Saint Peter himself.  The men and women that we call Saints were human and despite the efforts of hagiographers to portray them as something more than that they remain human.  They had virtues and vices.   They were sometimes cranky, ill humored and dour and jealous of coworkers and sometimes even petty.  But those are the facts and they demonstrate the great love of God toward his people.

St Paul set the standard for the persecution of Christians prior to his conversion and sometimes had rocky relationships with his co-workers as both Barnabas and Timothy could attest.  St Peter denied Jesus not one, not two but three times and enjoyed some pork with some Gentiles until he got caught earning Paul’s well deserved scorn.  St Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin was a rather ill-tempered man and St Thomas Aquinas whose theological brilliance is echoed today in the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church was to put it mildly rather well fed, so much so that legend has it that he had a semi-circle cut at his place in the dinning room table to allow him to be closer to his food.  St Ignatius of Loyola the founder of the Jesuits was hauled before the Inquisition several times, while St Francis in his early life was a playboy soldier.  Mary Magdalene is believed to have been a woman of ill repute and St Augustine, the Father of Western Theology was such a sexual reprobate before his conversion that he made sure that everyone after him, even the married ones have to feel bad about having sex unless it is or the purpose of procreation with the expressed written intent of Major League Baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

My point is not to mock piety or those that do good works or give their lives for the faith, God and their fellow people.  In fact I celebrate those that do such works of heroism, charity and self sacrifice because they inspire me to do better.  I admire them because of their humanness and not because the Church for reasons noble or base chose to elevate their stories above others that never made the official calendar of Saints. In fact the vast majority of those considered by others to be Saints would be embarrassed at such attention being called to them and if they read some of the works that were given the “official” seal of the Church would probably blush in embarrassment.

I am inspired by them because of how the grace and love of God was shown through their lives, actions and even their imperfections.  When I see and read of their lives I know that there is hope because of Christ for someone like me.  I don’t ever hope to match the piety, holiness and genuine goodness of the vast majority of the saints.  I know that they are in the Hall of Fame I am on the Mendoza Line mostly still lucky to be on the team.

We know some of these men and women through history.  But for the most part the Saints are those whose memories that are known only to God and the lives of the men, women and children that they touched in ways ordinary and extraordinary.  I think that we all know a few precious Saints that touched our lives. The beautiful thing is that though they are no longer with us in the flesh they still intercede in heaven for us.

That is the wonder of All Saints Day, that God in Christ who reconciled the world to himself didn’t hold their sins against them.  Such is proof of the amazing grace of God in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Even more amazing is that God somehow uses all of us warts an all to touch others with his love.   Even guys like me that that are lucky to make the Mendoza Line.

Saint Rita pray for us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza is the namesake of the “Mendoza line” which is a batting average of .200 below which you are likely not going to playing baseball in the Major Leagues for very long. http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/article_cff05af5-032e-5a29-b5a8-ecc9216b0c02.html

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Padre Steve’s Flashback to Early Contemporary Christian Music

Me, top row 3rd from right with Continental Singers Tour G 1979 at Mount Rushmore

I became an active Christian a few years after what is now called ContemporaryChristian Music came on the scene.  Back then it was simple called “Jesus Music.”  Over the last 35 years or so I have seen this genre of Christian music morph from a small segment of the music scene to a rather large and profitable industry. I really don’t listen to too much of the new stuff in fact unless the artist was around in the late 1970s or early 1980s I probably wouldn’t know anything about them or their music.

In those days it was still possible to hang out with groups when they came into town. In 1979 the group The Sweet Comfort Band came to my hometown, Stockton California for a series of concerts in local high schools (God forbid this happen today) culminating with a Friday night concert at one of the larger churches in town.  The guys were down to earth and real and talked about real life, even movies not just church.  That was eye opening because it kind of blew away my idea that “Christian” artist were somehow a step above the rest of us.  These guys showed me that Christians could be down to earth and able to relate to people.  I was able to meet others at the 1979 Continental Singers rehearsal camp as I prepared to go as a Spotlight Technician with the Continental Singers Tour G.

When this genre of music first came out the record labels that carried the new contemporary artists were either labels that had previously carried gospel singers such as Word and Light and start ups such as Maranatha! Music, Sparrow/Birdwing Music and Larry Norman’ Solid Rock Records.  When larger secular labels discovered that there was money to be made they acquired most of these labels giving them more visibility but I think less independence than they had previously.

The music was as diverse and the artists performing the songs, everything from rock and country rock, to jazz and middle of the road music.  Some artists had been successful secular recording artists before becoming Christians or rediscovering the faith that they had grown up with.  The music varied in quality, some groups were very good and even pushed the edges of artistic license allowed in Evangelical Christianity while others were not that good and were pushed into the limelight because they had long hair and played guitars.  Some of the bands such as Love Song would achieve a certain status in Contemporary Christian music that long outlived the length of time that they were in existence.  Some bands were one album wonders while some like Daniel Amos remained together for many years.

As the genre grew a sub-genre of contemporary praise and worship music grew out of Calvary Chapel beginning with an album called The Praise Album. These were simple worship songs that small groups especially youth groups and college age groups could easily sing with just a guitar. They fit what John Wesley said about hymns was that they must be easily sung and not complicated.  As such they grew in popularity and many other churches and recording labels got in on the game in opinion saturating the market with music that is only remarkable in its poor quality and insipid theology.  The theology in most of the early songs was simple, based around Jesus and God’s love and not written to advance quasi politic agendas. There was not the warlike quality of many of today’s so called “worship music.”  I know that some will rake me over the coals for this but I have a hard time calling something worship when it is nothing more than a rally or fight song.  Some of these early songs are here: Freely, Freely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCLconoyX9I As the Deer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvQwvDfY5dk&p=90917541439498D0&playnext=1&index=82 In His Time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjab00qQG3k&feature=related, Karen Lafferty’s Seek Ye First http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LMQfOp9w8k&feature=related The Servant King http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwIukabdw3E and the Spirit Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqkvIhs7Ijg

But in this essay I’m going to go back in time and look at some of the early artists and their music beginning in the early 1970s and ending in the mid-1980s.  This is kind of an arbitrary line because in 1984 I left the United States for a three year tour with the Army in Germany where I lost track of most of what was going on in Christian music and when I returned did not find the newer artists as much to my liking.  For me it was simply a matter of musical preference.  It is hard to find much of this music now. Many songs were only on LPs and produced in limited quantities. Since many were obscure and this was before the digital age very few video recordings exist for many groups.  As such some people have taken audios and mixed them with slide shows or videos or the videos are from “reunion” type concerts 20-30 years after the songs were first introduced.

The revolution in Christian music began in Costa Mesa California at a little country church called Calvary Chapel. The church made the effort to reach the “hippies” that hung around the beach towns including many musicians. The group Love Song was perhaps the first group to reach any form of national prominence and their songs such as Little Country Church http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZkWrn9SXwo&feature=related, and Two Hands http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW12P7upc6o&feature=related became early examples of how the music could be popular and contemporary.  The lead singer of the group Chuck Girard went solo and made a number of albums but Rock and Roll Preacher was one of his signature songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_I3R3tC6Rk&feature=related

Other Calvary Chapel Groups that recorded on the new Maranatha! Music lable included the Children of the Day who released For those Tears I Died http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np8GJGZ3Vv8 Mustard Seed Faith who released Sail on Sailor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPDAC4-ZkEc&feature=related the country rock band Bethlehem and Desert Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMkpLzomcxM&feature=related as well as Bill Sprouse and The Road Home who had one song that made the group before Sprouse died, the song  Psalm 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gJ2XPDf_jE and The Way who produced two albums under Marantha one of their songs being Song of Joy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77Le6G63eZY .

Two other groups Daniel Amos and the Sweet Comfort Band also hailed from the early days of Maranatha Music.  Both groups endured and although they had different music styles they could both have fun with their music as well as make provocative statements about the church and how Christians related to society.  Daniel Amos initially was a country rock band with a sound somewhat similar to the Eagles.  They would retain some of this but moved on to some of the more cutting edge New Wave Rock styles of the 1980s.  Their signature album was Shotgun Angel a country rock album with a side two that was a mini concert about the Second Coming of Christ from a Pre-Tribulation Dispensational theology understanding, an understanding that was quite common in the groups of that day. That album included Black Gold Fever,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZkWrn9SXwo&feature=related, Shotgun Angel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFD8_-v4bhw&feature=related, Posse in the Sky http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwa5gep9CBc&feature=related and Fall in Your Father’s Arms http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOTar60srFg&feature=related.  Their First Album include one of my favorite songs of the ear I Ain’t Gonna Fight it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=intea3oCcDk Later releases include the albums Horrendous Disc and Alarma! The song I Believe in You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMkpLzomcxM&feature=related from Horrendous Disc and Walls of Doubt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbFTcGAAQkk&feature=related from Alarma! Interestingly enough Daniel Amos is considered by some to be one of the best bands from a creativity standpoint in the 1980s Christian or secular.  The group stayed together and after they broke up Terry Taylor the leader of the group formed other bands including The Swirling Eddies and the Lost Dogs. One of the more interesting songs of the Swirling Eddies is Hide the Beer the Pastor’s Herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b74VWclpH6c which deals with some of the hypocrisy of some Christians who will condemn someone for drinking yet excuse all sorts of other unseemly behaviors.

A second group from the Maranatha label was the Sweet Comfort Band. This band led by Bryan Duncan and Randy Thomas had a light jazz and rock style that featured Randy Thomas Jazz Guitar and brothers Kevin Thompson’s Alembic 5 string bass guitar and Rick Thompson’s drums.  The group produced a number of albums before they broke up in the late 1980s with Bryan Duncan going solo. They have on occasion gotten together in reunion concerts though Kevin Thomas died in May of this year.  Their first album Sweet Comfort which came out on the Maranatha label included Childish Things http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R8wY0DCI3A&feature=related When I was Alone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbFTcGAAQkk&feature=related It’s so Fine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igp9WJ7QLUE&feature=related and Get Ready http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EhcPuwBvZg where Kevin had a great bass solo.  They left Maranatha and signed with Light Music where they made a number of albums including Breakin’ the Ice which featured Breakin’ the Ice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ4cddT0Eh0&p=20C05334BBE82D2F&playnext=1&index=1, Good Felling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJWwcRYT1p4 and Got to Believe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3x7Myegr24 Other later albums featured songs like Ride the Tide http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8oSc7jY288&feature=related

The interesting thing was that many Christians had a hard time with both Daniel Amos and the Sweet Comfort Band.  The members of SBC were frequently berated for their jazz, rock, funk style by Christians who felt that the style was “of the Devil” and both groups frequently played for free on places like the Sunset Strip because they felt it was more important to play for non-believers than believers. Wow, imagine that? When one looks at much of what is called “Contemporary Christian Music” now these groups stand in stark contrast. They were not playing for the approval and entertainment of Christians.

Other artists emerged outside of Calvary Chapel, some who had been successful in their own right prior to becoming Christians such as Barry McGuire who had been with Credence Clearwater Revival, had been in the musical Hair and had his own hit Eve of Destruction for which he is best known.  McGuire’s music is harder to find online and much of what is now available comes from a series of concerts with Peter York, Phil Keaggy, Terry Talbot and others on the music of the 1960s.  However Eve of Destruction http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo and his post conversion song Calling me Home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxoRzqZnP98&feature=related make for interesting listening. Barry still tours and is still entertaining. I remember seeing him a number of times in Sacramento in the late 1970s at a church called The Warehouse.


McGuire recorded on the Sparrow label founded by Buck Herring.  The label also featured the long lived Second Chapter of Acts who performed such memorable songs as Mansion Builder http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmxcotW-O0w and the Easter Song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gggPpVtEKQ&feature=related,

and Keith Green the Jewish convert to Christianity who wrote Make my Life a Prayer to You http://vodpod.com/watch/2188390-keith-green-make-my-life-a-prayer-to-you-subtitles He’ll take Care of the Rest http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAe0q21YgTQ&feature=related, The Victor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wil0PBylyW0&feature=related and When I Hear the Praises Start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIgVU_5FsqA&feature=related. Green would produce many songs that have endured among his fans and those that wound never see him in person.  Green had a hard edge to his message and died in a private plane crash with two of his children in the summer of 1982.  His wife Melody carries on his musical legacy.

Another artist on the label was John Michale Talbot who along with his brother Terry had been founding members of the group Mason Proffit before becoming Christians.  John Michael produced two albums on the label before his conversion to Roman Catholicism where he became a lay Franciscan.  He remained on the label for years producing albums which helped introduce a generation of contemporary Christian listeners to the liturgy and Catholic spirituality.  His album The Lord’s Supper was a breakthrough as he adapted music from the Mass into a beautiful album.  His adaptation of the Apostle’s Creed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxACNt-QRAo was amazing in its musical style and difficulty and his Holy is His Name http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aYecuDlDYM is an enduring classic.  Talbot’s brother Terry also recorded on Sparrow one song which is entitled No Longer Alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR0KBRO-e7g

Other artists included Larry Norman who might be considered the first Christian rocker and Randy Stonehill who recorded on Norman’s Solid Rock label. Norman is best known for his songs The Rock that Doesn’t Roll http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzB638GRfJ0&feature=PlayList&p=44A2023098B233CF&index=0&playnext=1 I’d Wish we’d All Been Ready http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1FcTKNXlO0 and Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWh8-FPelHU&feature=related

His friend Randy Stonehill wrote songs like King of Hearts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1Q0RO3yi8Y&feature=related, First Prayer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmhsY7NeFhM&feature=related Keep me Running http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP2dB208ISI&feature=related and Song for Sarah. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crDIHKaMwyA&feature=related Norman died in 2008 after a long illness and Stonehill has continued to produce often touching on topics that other Christian artists fear to tackle.

Guitarist Phil Keaggy has had a long and illustrious career in both Christian and secular music with his song Your Love Broke Through being among my favorites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wil0PBylyW0&feature=related

Paul Clark and Liberation Suite brought an English twist to the genre, this song Make a Joyful Noise was taped during their 1976 European tour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYfa4iQg8e4 while the Pat Terry Group produced You’d be There http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWMBV0WoTeI&feature=related and Don Francisco recorded the classic He’s Alive! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2slLdaK5Wg&feature=related Amy Grant produced many albums beginning in the late 1970s and still remains popular. Song’s like My Father’s Eyes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmOEJXNtF0E and El Shaddai http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYcEHguYwtc&feature=related remain hits to this day.  Likewise Evie Tourquist (Karlsson) was incredibly popular, especially with young Christian guys in the mid to late 1970s and the song Pass it On http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHQLRm_O9mU was a staple of many high school groups.

Other groups have passed into obscurity with their albums nearly impossible to find.  The early “Jesus Music” often produced in primitive studios was certainly sincere it varied in quality as well as theological content. At the same time the early artists pioneered new ways of expressing their faith in music which has influenced the music of churches that in the 1970s considered such music to still be “the Devil’s music.”  I could go on to write about other artists but most of those came later and really don’t fall into the early years that I am trying to limit this musical essay to, but the fact is that these artists as well as others changed Christian music.  The impact has been mixed while there is much positive in the music many Christians and churches threw out their musical and theological heritage in the rush to become more relevant. Likewise the absorption of Christian music labels into secular labels which were later acquired by multinational entertainment groups is not necessarily a good thing because those corporations are totally profit driven and undoubtedly influenced the content, theology and style of the music produced by current artists causing some of the older artists to become independents.

Padre Steve and Judy back in the Day

I guess in the long run we will see the fruit of this movement, the good and the bad and hopefully the good will outweigh the bad and maybe, just maybe the music will again be the music of the church and not merely of publishing houses that sell a product to churches.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Last Week of Lent: Mediation on Life, Love and Public Witness

Lent is drawing to a close and Sunday begins Holy week where the Church remembers the last week in the early life of Jesus the Christ.  While I will write about the various aspects of Holy week to include Passion or Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter but tonight a short meditation on the final week of this Lenten season.

I have discussed how this Lent has been different than previous observances of Lent.  In the past I was constantly trying to observe certain spiritual disciplines to include fasting, abstinence and prayer in a formal and legalistic manner.  Last year as I was “melting down” in my spiritual, psychological and physical life facing an existential crisis where after my tour in Iraq, experience of forsakenness, disillusionment concerning the Church, political institutions and the media and doubt about the existence of God I attempted to change the way that I observed Lent.  For the most part that attempt was an abysmal failure, however out of it came an association with the Pastor and people of Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth which has been a place where at least part of me began to experience community and healing again.

This Lenten season has been one filled with an experience of God’s grace and love as well as a connection to others that I have missed for a long time.  It has been a time of continued healing, self discovery in the light of God’s grace and change in the way that I do life.  Admittedly this has been a gradual process that began back during Advent but has become more a part of my life.  The rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus and a life in community with others has been a key factor in this experience.  I certainly have not figured everything out, far be it, I am re-learning my faith and it has been a time of refreshment.  Part of this is the experience of Christ in Scripture and sacred Tradition, but also in reason.  As such it has been a time where I have been able to enunciate how my Christian faith addresses the trying times that we are living in often through the witness of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth.

One thing that Bonhoeffer said has a particular resonance in my life because it aptly describes how I feel.  In prison Bonhoeffer wrote: “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood’. While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

In fact I find it easier on many occasions to have free flowing, intellectual, spiritual discussions with people who have a faith far different than mine than I do with many people in my own denomination. I am making no judgment on them as I have been the one going through a fundamental change in the way that I do life, theology and relationships.

As this has occurred I have rediscovered just how much God loves and cares for real people, as Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

As I interact more with those “outside” the church I often find deep faith and integrity which sometimes I find to be more “real” than some of the Christians that I know. I am not saying that somehow the non-Christian is superior to the Christian but that God has also made them in his image and as such they are not the enemies of God. As Paul the Apostle wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2nd Cor. 5:17-21 NRSV and “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10 NRSV

Likewise I also have found it harder to deal with people who spout religious jargon and throw out Bible verses without any sense of context, history and or concern for their hearers.  It seems to me that many parts of American Christianity have substituted cultural and political issues for the preaching of the Gospel of life.  I recently saw some posts by religious leaders on social networking sites, websites and media outlets that accused pro-life Democrats of “betraying their faith” by voting for the Health Care Bill.  Now I am not thrilled with the bill and have major concerns about it.  However, if I decide to accuse someone of “betraying their faith” I had better be sure that I am on solid ground and stick to what is in the Creed over a particular interpretation of any moral or social issue on which even Christians disagree. Saying this will win me no friends in certain parts of the Church but I wonder the utility of alienating people and in our condemnation of them ensure that they will turn off anything that we say about Jesus who despite what they (and we) do still loves humanity with an undying and passionate love that is demonstrated by his death on the Cross as Paul wrote “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 NRSV

In all of the turmoil that has embroiled the country I still find myself at peace because of what has happened to me over the past couple of years. Going to war and seeing the tragedy of a people engulfed in civil war has given me an appreciation of seeking peaceful dialogue with those that I have disagreement rather than attacking them at the center of their being.  I believe the Gospel lived authentically and not wrapped in the incestuous embrace of venomous and often hate filled political ideologies which seems to be increasingly the case in United States is far more powerful than that of a political movement of any kind.  The church surrenders its authority and legitimacy by allowing itself to be a party organ of any political party or ideology.  Unfortunately simply because political parties and movements pay lip service to certain “Christian” values many Christians and churches lose themselves and endorse power for power sake hoping that the party will implement their beliefs.  Unfortunately history proves that more often than not when their party returns to power it will again sell them short with no return for their support.  The unintended consequence is that people who need the Gospel identify it with the political ideology of the party that the church supported.  This was not the witness of the early church, the Apostles and those that followed them.

The mimicking of ideologues by Christians gives credence and support to violent people who under the cover of God have no problem with praying for the death of their opponents and in some cases taking the responsibility of that in their own hands.  Should bloodshed arise out of this latest partisan political struggle the religious leaders who urged violence and prayed for death will have blood on their hands.  Having been threatened with violence on this website by a supposedly “Christian” person I take a deeply personal interest in just how violent some Christians have become and with actions and violent threats against members of the House of Representatives I wonder what will happen when someone assassinates one of these men or women or a religious leader who dares to oppose them.

The alternative to this is to cry “NO!” to the calls for violence and judgment no matter from what side of the political or ideological spectrum that they emerge.  The alternative is to in thought word and deed demonstrate the truth of the Gospel in love even to those that we have strong disagreement on very important issues.

Anyway I must close for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sacrament of the Smile….Making it Real

In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mystery “The Archbishop in Andalusia” the character Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I’m the kind of person that if I’m angry or not doing well my face can show it even if I don’t want it to.  It’s sometimes hard to hide emotions even though I try, but I have gotten pretty good at hiding them by putting on a poker face and smiling, even if it hurts to do so.   This works most of the time, but sometimes with people who know me pretty well it catch me.  They ask me if I’m doing okay and they are pretty good at taking care of me in those moments, which unfortunately are a lot more common after Iraq than before it but occasionally happen.

However on the whole I remain a pretty upbeat person.  I think my most common greeting with people that I work with or see relatively often is “Hey, what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening in the world?” Most of the time I’m a pretty laid back kind of person. I think that this is due a blend of genetics from a recessive gene in my family as well as having grown up on the West Coast and spending a lot of my adult life somewhere in the former Confederate States of America.   The genetic factor has to be a recessive gene as a lot of folks in my family can get spun up and pretty serious pretty fast.

Since being upbeat unless I am downcast is the baseline for me, even with my PTSD I find a lot of humor in life and still manage to have fun.  I love the folks that I work with in my ICUs and being in those places with those colleagues does me an incredible amount of good.

One thing that I have noticed is that it is important for me to smile; in fact I generally like smiling except when I don’t.   I admit that there are some times and some people that I am like the scene in the movie Patton where Patton is forced to make conversation with a Soviet General after the war.  In those kinds of times the smile is definitely faked and thankfully most people don’t realize it.

However what I find is that many people respond positively to a genuine and caring smile and greeting.  Let’s face it times are not the best, all the economic problems and political conflict coupled with ongoing wars and wondering what is going to happen stress a lot of people out.  A lot of this is the news media’s fault as they heap one negative story after another on their viewers, particularly those who are addicted to 24 hour non-stop cable news and talk radio.  As a result it is amazing to see the number of people out in town who don’t smile.  Since I work in a pretty good sized teaching medical center I see people going through a lot of health and life crisis, but even here I don’t quite see the level of disgruntledness that I see out in town.  Frankly I’d like to see a lot more gruntled than disgruntled people.

In the past year that I have been here I have endeavored to be as positive and cheerful as possible and with some exceptions I have managed pretty well.  In fact I have made it my crusade to honestly try to greet everyone that I contact with a kind word or smile and often a God bless you or simply “blessings on your head.” What I love to see is someone who has been obviously beaten down; do a double take when they realize that someone; that being me, is taking the time to say something nice to them.  I love the sheepish smiles, the surprised thank you and God bless you responses that I get in return.

No place is this more important than church or chapel service when I or for that matter any Priest or minister serves God’s people.  Grumpy pastors, who are too bothered to care, perform their duties in a perfunctory manner or worse are rude and disrespectful to the people that God entrusts to their care  do damage.  It’s like Archbishop Blackie said, the encounters that we have are occasions to share the grace and love of God, to be with them, care for them and are in a very real sense both evangelical and sacramental occasions.  When I was in Jacksonville Florida as a Navy Chaplain I would occasionally serve at the altar of our cathedral church.  People would almost always comment on how joyful I looked while celebrating Eucharist and serving communion.  How can I not be when I am entrusted with such a great gift for God’s people?

Judy and my college room-mate Kendra is in town this week.  We had kind of a three’s company situation.  I had my men’s bedroom which was a total college guy mess and Judy and Kendra shared the other bedroom.  At the time Kendra was an Atheist being bombarded by many of our well meaning but hyper aggressive Christian friends.  We had a blast.  Kendra is like super duper deaf, lost all of her hearing at the age of four after she had learned to speak and read. She’s incredibly intelligent and as a 15 year old scored in the upper one percentile of the SAT where I not to be too flashy scored somewhere around the upper thirty-fifth percentile due to my abysmal math score. It was due to Kendra that I learned sign language.  All of Judy’s friends were deaf at Cal State Northridge and I needed it, but Kendra and her sense of humor helped make me do it.  When I first met her Judy had to run out and when Judy came back to her dorm room, this was before the three’s company” set up she found Kendra and I reading the “Official Sick Joke Book” and since I couldn’t sign just yet pointing to the jokes and laughing.  Anyway, Kendra eventually came to faith and joined the Episcopal Church in Pasadena just a few years back.  In her spiritual biography she mentions us not trying to convert her, even going to church with us without feeling pressure. She knew that we cared for her and our continued friendship was a part of how she came to faith.  I thought that was so cool.  My sign language is in the crapper now but I am going to do my best to have fun.  I picked up a copy of “Mommy Dearest” so we could watch it and relive great memories of chasing each other around the apartment with wire coat hangers saying “no more wire hangers.” Trust me you have to see the movie to get this one.

Of course I try to ensure that I don’t appear to be a total idiot when I do this, with some mindless smile or joke that is inappropriate to the occasion.  Let’s look at a unlikely scenario: With me in the room the Doctor says to the patient “Sir, I have good and bad news.”   The patient says “What’s the good news?” The doctor replies “the good news is pretty soon you will feel no pain.”  The patient says “Doctor that’s wonderful news, you know I’ve been in so much pain for so long.  So what’s the bad news?” The doctor replies “Son you’re going to die.” Then I as the chaplain with a mindless big grin on my face chime in, “Let’s focus on the positive now…have you seen The Bucket list? Gotta love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman huh? They are such good actors.  Hey, I have an idea, you want to pray?”  As the nurses and doctors struggle to pull the man’s hands from around my throat I gasp out “so do you want me to come back later?”  That of course is extremely unlikely in my case; in fact I usually am the glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to dealing with sick people since I am neither a physician nor God.

I have a sense of gallows humor but am very careful how and when to use it and thankfully I am able to not smile like an idiot when bad news gets delivered.   It’s a gift.  Let’s face it there is that stuff about those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, everything has to be in balance.

All this being said there are times where the foot is in the other shoe. These are the times that the person who is afflicted with a life threatening condition or knows that they are dying is the one who smiles and comforts others, even throwing in a joke or poking fun at someone in the room.  Having experienced this even very recently I have to say that these kinds of folks do more for me than I think that I can ever do for them.   Often there is a time of interaction where the person allows me into their world, to share a story, a laugh and a blessing.  For a Priest it doesn’t get any better than that.  These are holy times where God shows up and tonight I have the honor of spending time with such a man and his family.  I am reminded at these times how precious the time is and just how in the midst of pain, suffering and even death, that the God who says “I will never leave you or forsake you” is truly with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I’ll be smiling tonight in every ward that I visit and hopefully with every staff member, patient and family member that I encounter, knowing that in their lives, that smile might be the only good thing that happens to them all day, or maybe even all week.

Make sure that you smile and give a kind word to someone soon.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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