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Going Forward into the Past: Coronavirus-19 Easter 2020 and Going Back to Our Roots

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This kind of returns to the theme of the article I wrote on Good Friday. On the first Good Friday the followers of Jesus fled the scene and hid. The same was true on the first Holy Saturday, and yes, even the first Easter Sunday. If it had not been for the appearance of Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and a woman named Salome coming to anoint his body according to Luke, Mary Magdalene alone according to John,  or Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus according to Matthew and Mark just to visit the tomb we can remain assured that the male followers would have remained in their spider holes until they were sure that it was safe to come out. Regardless of the account it was one or all of these women who found Peter and John, who ran to the tomb to find it empty. Then they returned to discuss the matter with whoever of the disciples they could find, except Judas Iscariot who was simply hanging around and rotting, but I digress.

What is important is that they pretty much remained in hiding until Jesus made his first port-Resurrection visits to them. Even then, they didn’t do much in public and were not engaged in preaching or knocking on doors to share their faith. One of the disciples, a man named Thomas expressed his doubts until he met Jesus face to face when Jesus made one of his appearances. During the encounter challenged by Jesus to put his hands in the wounds on his hands and side. Personally, I think it would be good for all Christians to experience doubt, or even what Saint John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul, or the total absence of any feeling of the presence of God. However, in our Americanized profit before prophet materialistic and success absorbed church, that message is a hard sell. Perhaps the Coronavirus 19 pandemic will change that, but only time will tell.

I think that what is happening now with the Coronavirus-19 pandemic has shaken our faith in the illusionary comforts and successes of this life. I think that this illusion of control needs to be shaken to the core, especially for the Christian, regardless of tradition, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, or Pentecostal/ Charismatic. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote:

“In a civilization that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people’s eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.”

This is not a denial of the resurrection, but a realization that while Christ is risen, that we still live in a world that is afflicted by the actions of human beings to exploit it, destroy it, and exploit and dehumanize other human beings in quest of power and profit. It is the obligation of the Christian and other people of faith to stand up against respond to the plight of suffering people, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Tonight I read the story of a Pentecostal Church in Beckley West Virginia devoting its Easter weekend to using 3D printers to manufacture face masks and shields to CDC and FDA specifications for local hospital workers who are desperately short of PPE. I was blown away. They understood that the mission of Christian, the Church as well as other believers in such as situation is not just simply praying or gathering, but rather doing what they could to act, to do something more than gathering, praising, praying, or celebrating while others suffer and die.

I have learned and still am learning what Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote not before he was killed by SS at Flossenburg on the personal order of Hitler:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

I truly believe that this pandemic is an opportunity to re-learn what our ancestors in faith knew from experience: That faith is most real when there is little worldly to hope for, when our illusions of worldly power, and with it the power, and exclusivity of the Church are broken down by something smaller yet more disruptive and deadly than the leaders of our greatest cathedrals, or most massive megachurch stadiums could ever imagine, because what we worship is not spiritual, but material treasures. We, and I mean me as well, have often found our worth in our possessions, those things that we think we own or or think we possess.

This horrible pandemic is by no means over. It will most likely continue to wash over our planet like tsunami waves disrupting our lives and killing many. Between each wave there intervals of comparative quiet, until the next wave hits. This will continue until a vaccine is developed and provided around the world. That could take a year to eighteen months. During that time our lives will be changed in ways that none of us can imagine.

But in the midst of this, when ways out seem so fraught with danger, on Easter we have to remember hope. As Moltmann wrote:

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

That is the task now, not just of Christian, but of all people of faith as well as those who do not believe in God or any higher power. We have to focus on the redemption of the real world, and doing everything we can to alleviate the suffering of others and not abandoning them, as we hope that others will not abandon us in the hour of our need. As Bonhoeffer noted we have to see the world through the eyes of Jesus in Gethsemane.

If people of faith, Christian or not, respond by loving and caring for those who before we didn’t think were worthy of the love of God, or probably more accurately believed were unworthy of associating with us, then maybe people will believe our message again.

When I was a teenager growing up in the middle of the Jesus movement in the 1970s there was a Christian Rock Group out of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa named Daniel Amos. Written by Terry Scott Taylor, the Song, Losers and Winners  https://genius.com/Daniel-amos-losers-and-winners-lyrics  reminds us that being a Christian, or for that matter any member of any faith, that God cares for everyone, regardless of who we are or our status in life, and we should too.

I ain’t namin’ names
But I sense that some pride remains
And I do not want to exclude myself
But I had to take a look
In the light of God’s own Book
So see if this sin ain’t yours as well
Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else,
Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you
So until tomorrow, let that sink in. The Jesus I believe in loves and cares for everyone, and his command is that his followers do the same.
So in this unusual for our age Easter and Easter season let us remember that it is not about us and our superiority, prosperity, privilege, pride, or worldly possessions or honor that we live. Nor is about our theology or who we believe God, is, or what our doctrine teaches about the Deity Himself or Herself, but it is for others, regardless of our faith, their faith, or lack of it, for we all are human beings on the Big Blue Marble that we call Earth. We live or die together.
Until tomorrow or whenever,
Peace,
Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, faith, life, ministry, News and current events, Religion

Good Friday and the Men Who Wash their Hands Of Responsible for Failing to uphold the Law.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is Good Friday and so unless something really unusual and earth shattering occurs I am going to take the Easter weekend to do some reflection, including on some spiritual topics. In light of that I am simply going to post three of my older fictional accounts of that weekend today, tomorrow and Sunday while I spend most of my time preparing for a talk at Temple Israel in Norfolk next week about bearing witness to the Holocaust even as the last survivors and witnesses pass from their journey on this earth.

There are a number of other articles in the series that cover all of Holy Week. If you want to read them those stories are on the site,

As a genre this series falls in the realm of historical fiction, which means that while they may be set in a historical event, that they are fiction. Likewise, I admit that they and the main character are more a reflection of me, and my journey, and my over-active imagination, than my cursory study of Roman and New Testament History. Likewise, I reject any claim that the Jewish people as a whole were at fault in the death of Jesus the Nazarene. Of the people directly involved on that weekend, there was much blame to be passed around, but to ascribe the ultimate blame to the Jews and justify the persecution of Jewish people two millennia after that weekend is despicable. To label them as “Christ Killers” is only something a Nazi or Christian version of the Taliban would do. So as you read this and the next few articles please keep that in mind. Likewise, keep in mind that political and religious leaders like Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, soldiers like Longinus and his men, and traitors like Judas are no different than people of any age, people like you and me. That is why whether you are a Christian or not, the narrative of Easter is profoundly human, and points to more things about humanity that we would rather ignore, than to the more positive attributes of humanity. That is why, despite the message of Easter, we have to remember the words of the Jewish Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Honestly, that is also the lesson of Good Friday and Easter, regardless of whether you believe or don’t. So if you take the time to read the Passion narrative, remember that we are all possible victims, perpetrators, or bystanders. That being said, have a nice weekend, and if you do it, have a nice Easter. If you don’t do Easter, I wish you well. If you are Jewish have a nice Passover, or if you are something else or an unbeliever, just have a nice weekend.

But please take the time to ponder, whether on Good Friday or in Nazi Germany, would you be a victim, perpetrator, or bystander? Even if the story of Good Friday and Easter is nothing more than a myth there are human lessons to be learned, even for a President, an Attorney General, and their hosts of propagandists and supporters who turn their eyes from injustice and seek vengeance on the innocent.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Longinus had finally decided to try to get a bit of rest. After his rather morose meeting with Flavius and Decius he and Decius went back to check on the preparations for the executions scheduled for the next day. Quentin his Tesserarius had been working with the squad chosen to to conduct the actual crucifixions of the prisoners, Bar-Abbas the insurgent as well as the common criminals and murderers Dismas and Gestas who he had met in the hell hole of a jail in the dungeon of Fortress Antonia after Pilate had assigned him the task of conducting the executions.

Longinus was certain of his unit’s ability to carry out the mission, though he would have rather had a unit from Italy than his unit of Syrian and Samaritan troops. There was one positive aspect, his Samaritans and Syrians had no love for the Jews and would have no qualms whatsoever in disposing of the criminals.

He thought for a moment about the prisoners. That Bar-Abbas fellow, he would be glad that he or any other Roman would have to deal with him again once the crucifixion was over. As for the common criminals he felt that everyone would be better off with Gestus dead although he hoped that Pilate might take pity on the repentant thief named Dismas. However, despite his feelings he also knew that the law was the law and repentant or not that Dismas was guilty of the crimes and the sentence was just. As he had realized earlier in the day while talking with Flavius it was important not to become emotionally involved with the locals, especially prisoners. Maintaining an emotional distance ensured that he would not flinch in times when ice rather than blood needed to flow through one’s veins. He was proud that he could do this but envied the humanity that his comrade and friend Flavius still maintained in spite of everything.

He was just about to prepare for bed when a messenger from Pilate knocked on his door. It was late, too late and Longinus wondered just what was going on.

“Come.” He said, the weariness in his voice obvious in the way he answered.

The messenger, a relatively young Italian soldier assigned to Pilate’s bodyguard entered, came to attention and saluted.

Longinus looked at the young man, like him far from home and asked “what am I needed for now?”

“Centurion, the Governor has requested your presence” the soldier replied.

“May I ask what for?” A now increasingly irritated Longinus asked.

“Sir, I do not have the details but it is a pressing matter regarding the Jews and that Galilean preacher.” The young man was obviously uncomfortable in having to request a career officer like Longinus, a veteran of real battles and campaigns appear before Pilate for what was not much more than a religious dispute among an occupied people.

“Pressing matter?” Asked Longinus.

“Yes Centurion. I was told that it was urgent that you come to Governor Pilate now and alert your unit as at least some of your men may be needed if things get out of hand.”

“Can you please tell me just what is going on?” Longinus asked as he pulled his armored breastplate over his shoulders.

“I’m sorry Centurion, I have no more information. You are to report to the Governor within the half hour. The Governor wants your unit ready within the hour.” When he finished he came to attention, saluted and exited the room.

Longinus hated how leaders sent young men to be their messengers and would not give them all of the relevant information.

He then sat back down in his chair where he had been sitting and discussing the situation with Flavius and Decius. He wondered to himself what could be so pressing that Pilate needed him now.

After briefing Decius and Quentin, instructing them to wake the men and be ready for action Longinus took a squad and went to Pilate’s headquarters. When he arrived Pilate greeted him.

“Centurion, I hate to have bothered you at this hour in light of how busy you and your men will be in the morning but a situation has arisen.” Longinus looked around the room and then heard some commotion on the area called “the Pavement.

“What is happening my Lord?”

“Longinus, these Jews have brought that Jesus fellow here and are accusing him of fomenting a rebellion against the Emperor.”

“A rebellion sir?”

“That is what they say Centurion. They claim that one of his closest associates had turned him in and after a trial of their own that they found him guilty of claiming to be a king and God that will overthrow the Emperor.” Pilate could not hide his discomfort.

“Do you actually believe them sir? After all we had heard this morning that this Judas Iscariot fellow had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.”

“I know Centurion, I know.” Pilate looked at Longinus then back out at the crowd gathered outside in the dark. He was afraid and Longinus could sense that fear, fear that if he made the wrong move that a real rebellion could break out and that Pilate as the Governor would take the blame and bear the punishment and wrath of Caesar.

“Centurion, I tried to placate these people be questioning this Jesus fellow myself.” Pilate paused. “I must say that he is a rather unusual man and truthfully I could not find anything that under Roman law that I could find him guilty of doing. Not a thing Centurion, nothing but their leaders kept pressing me.” Pilate’s gaze seemed to be almost pleading with Longinus to help him escape this decision. Longinus knew at that moment that his day was about to get worse. Pilate continued “It seems to be a religious squabble of some kind so in order to deal with it and to try to keep us out of it I sent Jesus to Herod since Herod is the ruler of Galilee.”

“So Herod will certainly deal with the situation, will he not Governor?”

“Centurion, I thought that too. I thought that the corpulent bastard Herod would deal with it but I just got word that Herod too could find no crime. The Jewish leaders and of their Temple Police are supposedly bringing him back to me to render judgment. They are leaving it to me.”

“Judgment for what?”

“Sedition, treason, blasphemy, proclaiming himself a king.” Pilate paused, his face flushed. “My God I’m surprised that they haven’t accused the man of fathering the High Priest’s daughter.” The sarcasm and bitterness was evident in his voice.

“So what do you intend to do.”

“I intend to try to get us out of this with as little trouble or guilt as possible. When they return him to me I will ask a few more questions and set him free as is my prerogative, certainly they wouldn’t want to release a real murderer like Bar-Abbas back into society, I do give them more credit than to stoop that low.”

“I do hope that you are right governor, but from what I understand it seems that they are intent on ridding themselves of the fellow once and for all. I think that their leaders see the Galilean as more of a threat than a man like Bar-Abbas.”

Pilate said nothing and during the silence Longinus’s troops under the direction of Decius entered the perimeter of the court adding an additional security cordon as the crowd grew and got more boisterous. As they took up position the Temple Police and members of the High Priest’s entourage approached the court with the Galilean in custody. Quentin with four soldiers met them and took custody of the obviously tired and already abused man. They delivered Jesus to Pilate and stood back. Longinus watched as it happened. As he did so Flavius entered the room with his servant. The servant appeared unsteady and full of emotion when he saw the man who had healed him two years before. Flavius stood by his face not betraying any feelings except deep-seated rage that was boiling as he saw this travesty of justice take place.

Pilate attempted every trick in the book to garner a way to save the life of the man standing before him. He asked him questions and Jesus clothed in a purple robe that Herod had mockingly placed upon him said nothing. Finally in desperation Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. The answer both fascinated and terrified Pilate and caused him to wish that he had never come to the city. As he deliberated earlier and debated the members of the Sanhedrin his wife again urged him to “have nothing to do with that innocent man.”

But the answer of Jesus to the question of his kingship troubled Pilate. Had he thought the man insane he would have scourged him, declared him mad and been done with the affair.

“My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my followers would be fighting to ensue that you did not hand me over to the Jewish leaders.” Jesus looked into Pilate’s eyes, the look sent a chill through Pilate’s soul and so he restated the question “so you are a king?”

Jesus replied solemnly “You say I am a king. I was born for this and it is why I came to this world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”

Pilate appeared stunned and both Longinus and Flavius knew that Pilate, the consummate politician and man of intrigue was beaten. They listened as Pilate asked “what is truth?” The question was one of a man who had long ago sold his soul to gain the world, it was the question of a deeply cynical man who had long determined that truth was only in the eye of the beholder and to be used as needed to acquire power. At the same time they could see a touch of genuineness in the question as Pilate, desperate for an answer that would enable him to please everyone and spare the life of the man before him wrestled with the question of truth for the first time in years.

They watched as Pilate attempted to bargain for the life of Jesus only to be shouted down by the increasingly riotous crowd who demanded that Bar-Abbas be released. Again attempting to assuage the mob he had Jesus scourged with a barbed whip. The soldier who did that brutal work was a Syrian, big and burley without a trace of feeling in his eyes or face. The servant of Flavius begged him to intervene but Flavius now knew that the things happening to Jesus could no longer be influenced by sentimentality and stories of the goodness of Jesus. He had seen this type of Justice before, and though he despised it, he earnestly hoped that it would be enough to deliver Jesus.

After the scourging, soldiers assigned to Longinus jammed a crown of thorns down on the blood covered Jesus and placed the purple cloak over him. Jesus’s body trembled. Pilate again approached the mob and tried to decline the odious responsibility thrust into his hands. The mob led by the Chief Priests and joined by man of their rivals, the Pharisees cried out for Jesus to be crucified.

They heard Pilate plead with Jesus, again noting that he had power over the life and death of Jesus to which Jesus replied that Pilate “had no power over him that had not been given by God.” Finally he pleaded with the Jews one more time to take Bar-Abbas for execution and to spare the Galilean. The leaders shouted him down again and cried out that Pilate would be “a traitor to Caesar” if he let a man who claimed to be a king live.

Defeated By the mob and by his own weakness of character Pilate asked for a ceremonial washing basin full of water. When it came in the hands of a court member he placed his hands in it and proclaimed “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” He then ordered the soldiers to take Jesus to be crucified even as the prisoners Dismas and Gestus were led from the dungeon for execution and a profoundly perplexed Bar-Abbas was released by the jailer.

Longinus looked at Flavius and whispered to him “wash my hands of his blood? My God, he knows that he is as guilty as them.” Flavius looked on and simply said, “I know my friend, we all are.”

The small cohort of soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail were commanded by Quentin, a man who had fought many battles, and like Longinus and Flavius felt that these executions of helpless prisoners were unworthy of soldiers like himself. The soldiers of Flavius’s unit had responsibility for helping to clear a way down the narrow street called by the Romans Via Delarosa, or The street of suffering. It was the street that all the condemned travelled to the hill of execution so fittingly called the place of the Skull. Longinus had seen others walk this path but in the past he had been able to shield his person from their suffering, but today was different.

Longinus’s own execution squad led by Quentin led Jesus and the others along, forcing them to carry their crosses. About halfway down the street Jesus collapsed under the weight if his cross and grabbed a bystander, a man from Cyrene to carry the cross while the soldiers prodded the bloody body of Jesus down the street and out of the city to the place of execution. People jeered at the condemned as they did at very execution as for most this was no different than any other crucifixion and most of those present knew little about any of the condemned men and even those that were familiar with Jesus probably did not recognize the bloody man stumbling down the street. Of course there were others present who did know Jesus and watched in horror as their friend, teacher and for one woman her son struggled to the execution site. Longinus wondered about his own elderly mother and thought of her as he saw the mother of Jesus. He quickly tried to chase her image from his mind, he needed to be strong and hard if he was to keep his objectivity and conduct the mission as distasteful as he found it.

When the macabre parade arrived at the hill, the prisoners were stripped, placed on the crosses and nailed to them. Their screams as Quentin hammered the large iron nails home through their already abused flesh echoed for all to hear. Thankfully Quentin knew what he was doing and this part of the execution process happened quickly. Then the crosses were raised, but just before this a messenger from Pilate arrived with the placards that denoted the charges. He handed them to Longinus who noted what was written on the one for Jesus. It said “The King of the Jews.”

The placards were placed and with a thud the crosses were placed in the holes on the hill. The suffering of the prisoners was great, the crowds jeered and mocked them while those that loved them stood at a distance. Soldiers stood guard to ensure that no one interfered with them in any way. There was a bit of banter between the real criminals one of whom, the unpleasant one named Gestus joined in the mocking of Jesus only to be put in his place by the other one named Dismas.

Longinus, Flavius, Decius and a few other officers watched as their soldiers from the crucifixion detail divided the paltry worldly possession of the men between themselves. The men argued over a one piece tunic worn by Jesus, Not wanting to destroy it they cast lots for it. A trooper from Tyre won the tunic. Longinus and Flavius looked at each other and realized how little most of their men earned and neither begrudged the men the few items that they gathered from the men being executed.

The skies which had began the day with bright sunshine now became dark and foreboding. Lightening appeared in the distance and occasionally Jesus would address his mother or one man, Flavius believed him to be a disciple who stood by the cross. Jesus even promised the Dismas character that “he would be with him in paradise” and told others, Longinus thought the soldiers but he wasn’t sure “forgive them they know not what they do.” As it approached the ninth hour Jesus cried out in Aramaic “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

A cold rain began to fall.

Quentin approached him with a sponge on a pole which was soaked in a sour wine. It touched Jesus’s lips and Jesus said “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and then “it is finished.”

With that last dying remark the head of Jesus fell to his chest and his body, bloody and mangled hung limp. As the men looked on the ground began to tremble and as the ground shook and the officers looked about amid the gloom and confusion as the onlookers took flight Longinus exclaimed “surely this man was the son of God.” Flavius looked at his fellow Centurion in astonishment. Longinus, the man who had closed his heart in a fortress was echoing what he had believed since Jesus had healed his servant, the young man who was more than a servant to him.

As the crowds dispersed Longinus received the message that the executions had to be concluded before the Jews began their Passover. With that he sent Quentin to break the legs of the prisoners to hasten their deaths. When Quentin reached Jesus he called for Longinus.

“Centurion, I believe that this man is already dead. Do you still want me to break his legs?”

Longinus looked up at the bloody corpse and then at his subordinate and said “no I must do this myself.” He had a soldier bring him his lance, a ceremonial lance that denoted his seniority as the senior Centurion in the Legion. He looked at the lance and plunged it into the side of Jesus into his heart. Jesus did not move but from the wound blood mixed with what looked like water poured out of the wound and down his side.

“Quentin, he is dead, you may take him down.” Other soldiers pulled down the dead bodies of the thieves. As they did this a man approached Longinus and Flavius.

“Gentlemen. I am Joseph, I am a member of the Sanhedrin. I have come to take responsibility for the body of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Longinus replied in a businesslike manner “by whose authority?” He had a hard time believing that a member of the Sanhedrin would claim this body.

With that Joseph produced a letter from Pilate. Longinus looked the letter over and handed it back to Joseph without comment. Joseph then motioned to several men with him to take the body as Longinus, Flavius and the others looked on. Longinus thought to himself that it was good that a man of some means and influence would at least take the time to give this innocent man a decent burial.

As Quentin took charge of the cleanup Longinus instructed Decius to prepare the troops to return to Fortress Antonia. Flavius instructed his optimo to do the same. The last thing that any of them wanted to be was on the streets when the Jews began their Passover, as always they decided that it was unwise to stir up any more animosity than was needed. Today was a near run thing with e demonstration outside Pilate’s headquarters and none of them wanted any more excitement this evening.

When the clean up was completed and the bodies removed Longinus and Flavius ordered their soldiers back to Fortress Antonia. When they arrived the Centurions went to Pilate to inform him that the mission was complete. Pilate was glad the ordeal was over but was obviously still disturbed by the events of the day. Longinus, now exhausted was glad to leave Pilate’s presence. He still loathed politicians and wondered if had Pilate been a soldier if he would have had the courage to tell the leaders of the Sanhedrin to “pound sand” and keep Jesus alive. But then he knew that had Pilate done something that only a diplomat could do, he kept the peace. Had he been in charge the man named Jesus might have lived but hundreds maybe even thousands of others might have died.

After he dismissed his soldiers he went to his room, doffed his gear and went to the tavern in the fortress. Flavius joined him about 15 minutes later. They sat at the table as the barkeeper brought them each an ale. They looked at each other and Flavius asked “What did you mean by surely this man was the son of God?”

Longinus shook his head. “My friend I do not really know.” He paused and took a drink from his cup. “Until today I simply figured that he was a good man, but after today, after what I witnessed I just don’t know.”

“If you ask me my friend I think that he must be a God, if not somehow connected to the greatest of Gods, the God of the Jews.”

“Perhaps Flavius you are right. All I know is that I can no longer see the world, the Empire or my life in the same light as I did just a week ago.”

Flavius nodded his understanding as Decius entered the tavern. The younger officer reported to his seniors. They acknowledged his entrance and Longinus asked the younger officer to sit with them.

“What do you know Decius?”

The younger officer spoke. “Sir, I do not know if you heard the latest about the man that betrayed Jesus.”

Longinus asked sarcastically “did they elect him High Priest?”

The younger man caught the sarcasm and replied “if only that we’re the case. He was found dead, hanging from a tree in the Potter’s Field.”

Flavius answered: “So the traitor couldn’t handle the consequences of his own act of duplicity?”

Longinus replied, “Evidently not, it serves the bastard right.” He took a drink from his cup and motioned for the barkeep to get Decius a cup of ale too. The three men continued to drink silently and wondered what else could happen…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Howling at the Moon and Ministry at the End of a Long Military Career

Crash-Davis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The past few days I have been quietly reflecting on ministry as I get ready to transition out of my current assignment at the Staff College to be the senior base chaplain at one of the bases nearby. Fortunately I will be able to continue conducting the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the college but the transition to being a base chaplain for the second time in my career, the first some twenty years ago when I was in the Army, has caused me to ponder the form ministry again and why I am here. It also has made me think of my long career and my transition from being a rising star, to a old and bit sore veteran who still has something to give, I’ve been in the military now for almost 36 years, not much left to prove but some left to give.  A younger friend and chaplain once said I reminded him of Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis. I like the analogy, as Crash said: “I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon.”

I like hard questions and hard cases. My life has been quite interesting and that includes my faith journey as a Christian and human being. It is funny that in my life I have as I have grown older begun to appreciate those that do not believe and to rather distrust those who proclaim their religious faith with absolute certitude, especially when hard questions are asked.

Paul Tillich once said “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

I get “trolled” a lot and I find it amusing when trolls come by to condemn my “heresy.” When they do I realize that most of them must have some kind of psychological need to be right. I say this because for all of their certitude I sense a deep fear that they might be wrong. I think that is why they must do this.

I think that the quote by the late theologian is quite appropriate to me and the ministry that I find myself. I think it is a ministry pattern quite similar to Jesus in his dealings with the people during his earthly incarnate ministry.

Jesus was always hanging out with the outcasts, whether they be Jewish tax collectors collaborating with the Romans, lepers and other “unclean” types, Gentiles including the hated Roman occupiers, Samaritans and most dangerously, scandalous women. He seemed to reach out to these outcasts while often going out of his way to upset the religious establishment and the “true believers” of his day.

There is even one instance where a Centurion whose servant he healed was most likely involved in a homosexual relationship, based on the writer of the Gospel of Matthew’s use of the Greek word “Pais” which connotes a homosexual servant, instead of the more common “Doulos.” That account is the only time in the New Testament where that distinction is made, and Pais is used throughout Greek literature of the time to denote a homosexual slave or “house boy” relationship. Jesus was so successful at offending the profoundly orthodox of his day that his enemies made sure that they had him killed.

I think that what has brought me to this point is a combination of things but most importantly what happened to me in and after my tour in Iraq. Before I went to Iraq I was certain of about everything that I believed and was quite good at what we theologians and pastors call “apologetics.” My old Chaplain Assistant in the Army, who now recently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Chaplain Corps called me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh” back in 1997, and he meant it quite affectionately.

I was so good at it that I was silenced by a former Archbishop in my former church and banned from publishing for about 7 years after writing two articles for a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review.

The funny thing is that he, and a number of my closest friends from that denomination are either Roman Catholic priests or priests in the Anglican Ordinariate which came into communion with Rome a couple of years back. Ironically while being “too Catholic” was the reason I was forbidden to write it was because I questioned certain traditions and beliefs of the Church including that I believed that there was a role for women in the ordained ministry, that gays and lesbians could be “saved” and that not all Moslems were bad that got me thrown out in 2010.

However when I returned from Iraq in the midst of a full blown emotional, spiritual and physical collapse from PTSD that certitude disappeared. It took a while before I was able to rediscover faith and life and when I did it wasn’t the same. There was much more mystery to faith as well as reason. I came out of that period with much more empathy for those that either struggle with or reject faith. Thus I tend to hang out at bars and ball games more than church activities or socials, which I find absolutely tedious. I also have little use for clergy than in dysfunctional and broken systems that are rapidly being left behind. I am not speaking about belief here, but rather structure and methodology.

I think that if there is anything that God will judge the American versions of the Christian church is our absolute need for temporal power in the political, economic and social realms and the propagation of religious empires that only enrich the clergy which doing nothing for the least, the lost and the lonely. The fact that the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is “none” or “no preference” is proof of that and that the vast amounts of money needed to sustain these narcissistic religious empires, the mega-churches and “Christian” television industry will be their undoing.  That along with their lack of care for anyone but themselves. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their love for one another, not the size of their religious empire or temporal power.

The interesting thing is that today I have friends and colleagues that span the theological spectrum. Many of these men even if they do not agree with what I believe trust me to love and care for them, even when those most like them in terms of belief or doctrine, both religious and political treat them like crap. Likewise I attract a lot of people who at one time were either in ministry or preparing for it who were wounded in the process and gave up, even to the point of doubting God’s love and even existence. It is kind of a nice feeling to be there for people because they do not have to agree with me for me to be there for them.

In my darkest times my only spiritual readings were Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries which I began reading in Iraq to help me get through the nights in between missions in Iraq and through the nights when I returned from them.  In one of those books, the last of the series entitled “The Archbishop goes to Andalusia” the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.  In the novel 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)

In my ministry as a military chaplain working in combat units, critical care hospital settings, and teaching, I have found that there are many hurting people, people who like me question their faith and even long held beliefs.

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So, I guess that is why I stay in the game, I still love it, and why when I go to my new assignment I will do my best to care for all who come to me for any kind of guidance, respecting who they are and what they believe, while mentoring the junior chaplains who I will supervise so that they blossom as minsters of their faith groups, and chaplains to our diverse community. More than likely this will be my last assignment before I retire, and for me the job is not about me or any promotion, it is helping the next generation, because they are the future.  They must increase, and in the military sense I must decrease, I mean for God’s sake, 39 or 40 years of military service should be enough for me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Easter Alleluia?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am glad that Easter Sunday is over. Of course in my tradition, the Catholic-Orthodox-Anglican tradition, there are 49 more days left in the Easter Season, but who is counting?

I dreaded Easter this year, more than I ever have. I think it is because that for only the second time in my life, Easter Sunday coincided with my birthday. The only previous time that it did was in 2005, when I stilled lived in a cloud-cuckoo-land of unquestioned belief before I went to Iraq, before my crisis in faith, before I was cast aside by most of the clergy of my former church, and abandoned by men, fellow priests, chaplains, and clergy, who I thought were my friends. Interestingly enough, the current head of that church continues to stay in contact with me, and sent me a nice birthday greeting this morning. We may not agree on some of our theology, but I can respect and love him. For that I am grateful, and interestingly enough, many of those who I thought were my closest friends in that church,and in the military chaplaincy, abandoned it, just as they did me, because it wasn’t good enough for them either.

This year, for me, Easter became something existential. I did not think that I was going to live through it. Now, as far as I know there is nothing physically wrong with me that, and in fact I want to live, more than life itself. I want to live to be at least 105 years old so I can lead a staff ride on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 2063. I may need one of those hi-tech exoskeleton units to accomplish that should I live that long, but that is my goal.

I love life, but I struggle with faith. This week, in fact the whole season of Lent that preceded Holy Week was a struggle for me. Week after week I showed up to conduct services, to celebrate Eucharist, and no one came, until the last week of the previous class when one student came by. I was thrilled when it did, but truthfully, in the past two and a half years at the Staff College, my most faithful parishioners have been Lebanese Catholic officers, and there were none of them in the winter class. So despite the fact that we are kind of in a between class limbo, I was wondering, “why do I even bother to show up?”

I mean really… on Easter Sunday morning, my birthday to make matters worse, all I wanted to do was die. On the way home from work all I could feel was heaviness, and the only thing that kept me from driving my car off the road was that I didn’t want to put Judy through that pain. What I was feeling was not her fault; she had done all that she could to make this a good week and good birthday. I could not ask for more. But if you say you have faith, and have never been to the point of despair that I have been, please abstain if you can from judging me, and spare me your sermons.

Eventually, we got out to or friends at the Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant. After the horrible morning, the afternoon was good. My mood has lifted considerably. I have been treated with great kindness by hundreds of friends who have wished me well, by phone, e-mail, or on social media. Other friends were kind to me today. My Turkish friend at Biersch, his wife, made me a small cake; others were just kind to give me a hug, spend some time in conversation, or to share a laugh with me over a beer. While there I found that one of my friends here in Virginia Beach was in an automobile accident, and suffered some injuries this morning, and I pray, to the God that I so struggle to believe in, that he will be okay.

But that being said, I wonder at times, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked, is not true for me: experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”

I admit that I have been worn down, that I am suspicious, and that I struggle. I wonder, as far as my calling and vocation as a minister, priest and chaplain goes, if I am of any use.

If I am, I am glad for that. If I have even helped someone in some small way, in his or her time of crisis, or doubt, I am glad for that. If not, then that is something to be decided not by me, nor by the Church, but by God, and such decisions are way above and beyond my pay grade. As far as the men that I feel who abandoned me when I struggled, and when my questions could no longer be tolerated; men who I did all that I could do to help to where they are today, and men who I thought were my friends and brothers; for that I have no answer. So I guess that too is well above and beyond my pay grade.

As far as yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, I guess I am glad that no one showed up at my chapel. I was so far from even believing, I was so far from the hope of the resurrection, that to cry out “Alleluia! He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!” would have been blasphemy. So in a sense, as hard as today was, I was glad that I was spared from that.

When I thin that I am reminded of the words of he great German theologian Jurgen Moltmann;

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

I am hoping that this week will be better and that if anyone darkens the door of my chapel this coming Sunday, that I might actually join in the Easter alleluias. I want to experience that rebirth again, I want, not to simply assent to a dogma, but instead to participate in the creative act of God, and maybe to find redemption in this world whatever the next world may bring.

I hope that this makes sense, and even if it doesn’t, please, pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ash Wednesday 2016

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a shot note to start this Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is the traditional beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian tradition. Lent is a season of penitence, and if one is doing it right a season of examining their lives, and seeking to do better with the help of the grace of God. Some of the traditions during the season of Lent include going without meat on Fridays and if you are more strict on Wednesdays too, and doing other acts of penitence and contrition. However, that being said, to some I am not a very good Christian, and they may be right for I know that do not claim to have a lock on the mind of God.

Sadly, I have never been very good at observing the season of Lent, at least as far as the external rituals are concerned. My own sorry observance of them does not mean that they are without value, but having tried and tried to observe them and only being more miserable for my efforts, I have simply decided to do my best and let the chips fall where they may so far as the grace of God is concerned. I figure that if God is petty enough to punish me for eating a hamburger on a Friday during Lent that God’s grace really doesn’t matter. So I don’t worry about it. If I am wrong and God really is willing to send me to Hell for something like that, then the rest of my life doesn’t matter that much.

So, that being said I will conduct an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service for our students and faculty at the staff college today, and when I go home I will have a beer or two as I figure out just what I will eat. It might be soup, or a salad, possibly pasta, and may or may not include some kind mom meat. It will not be extravagant, and like today I will probably hand some money to a panhandler figuring as C.S. Lewis did that I would probably just buy a beer for myself with it anyway if I didn’t give it to someone willing to subject themselves to the ridicule and abuse of people that make a good living and for whom five or ten dollars doesn’t matter that much. However, having once been in the place where five, ten, or twenty dollars paid for a tank of gas, a prescription, or a sack of groceries, and having been the recipient of the goodness of people, I have a hard time sitting in judgement over people who struggle. I figure that if they are swindling me then they will have to deal with God about that.

Anyway. today is Ash Wednesday and I hope that Christians will use the day as a time of reflection and a time to renew their faith and trust in the grace, mercy, and love of God, rather than a time to look down their noses at, reject, and condemn other people desperately in need of the grace, mercy and love of God.

Maybe according to some of my more legalisticly observant readers I am not much of a Christian, and for some I am not a Christian at all. God knows that I have been told by quite a few people that I am going to Hell, and most of them are not joking. But, even so, despite how badly I observe Lent, despite what a sorry example I am to some people, I still believe that this season can be of value. I may not observe all the legalism that some do during this season, but I do try to scrutinize my life, and how I treat others, even if I do eat an occasional hamburger on days when I am supposed to go without meat, or without an alcoholic beverage, but as my favorite heretic Martin Luther once said,“It is better to think of church in the ale-house than to think of the ale-house in church.” 

So have a wonderful day, and do the season of Lent as best as you can and as benefits others the most, even of some people condemn your for not doing it perfectly.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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God’s Will?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote, “We are born with two incurable diseases, life, from which we die, and hope, which says maybe death isn’t the end.”

With Judy recovering from her surgery and things looking much more positive than a few weeks ago I have been doing some reflecting. One thing that really impressed me was how Judy handled this from beginning to end. She was concerned and worried much of the time, of course, when you get diagnosed with Cancer you should be worried, because you never know what course the disease will take, and what might even happen during surgery or subsequent treatments. I know people who thought that they were on the way to recovery who died unexpectedly due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy.

That being said Judy never asked “why me?” nor did she attribute this to “God’s will” or try to rationalize it by saying that “God was testing her faith” or any of this other quasi-providential but really fatalistic bullshit. Her reaction to this mirrored much of what I believed when I returned from Iraq when there were times that I easily could have been injured, wounded or even killed in incidents that were all too similar to others who were injured, killed or wounded. Of course here I am referring to visible physical wounds, not the Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury that has so messed with my mind. Like Judy I never asked “why me?’ of attributed what happened to me to being “God’s will” or the “providence of God.”

I tend to agree with Confederate Colonel William Oates whose 15th Alabama fought so bravely and unsuccessfully against Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. After the war, Oates, who was a Christian, reflected about God’s role in the battle and noted that he believed that God, “endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”

I apply that to all of life, I do not believe that God intentionally afflicts people with disease, or directs events so they are killed. I don’t believe that it is God’s will for people to suffer from terrible diseases or directs bullets, speeding cars or other things which kill young men and women, children or other innocents.

I know that from the beginning of time that people have attributed things that they cannot endure to God, the Devil, or in some cultures gods and devils, or even to attribute such things as God’s punishment for the “sins” of individuals and even their descendants. I know that helps some people, sometimes I think even some of the writers of scripture to frame suffering; as a whole people need to credit or blame someone for terrible things that happen.

I cringe when I hear people say that they are suffering because it is God’s will, or that God is testing them, or I see something that a terrible natural disaster that kills thousands of people is an “act of God.” To be truthful I cannot believe that God is so cruel and capricious to be in that kind of business, and if indeed God is really that way I would rather be an atheist than go to seek a heaven ruled by such a being. And yes, I know that as a Christian that this puts me in a minority. I simply believe that as Jesus so wisely noted that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” in other words that it is called life, or the human condition, and all of us have to deal with it. To be somewhat crude I believe that shit happens and we have to deal with it.

I cannot imagine a God who wills, plans, and condones genocide, slavery,Infanticide, wars of aggression waged in his name, and every imaginable form of suffering known to humanity. I cannot image a God who so so earnestly believe inflicts such grievous suffering on his children. If we were to apply the standards of justice that we apply to human fathers who abuse or kill their children to God we would do ourselves good and we would probably lock him away for consecutive life terms, but our human need for explaining this prevents us from asking hard questions to the God that we claim to believe. Mark Twain wrote: “The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind.”

That being said I do live in hope, which is a part of my faith, a faith which is in things that I cannot understand nor can I prove. In this I do believe that God somehow gives people, even people that religious people call “non-believers” a grace to deal with tragedy, illness, suffering and death. I have to believe that because I have often seen non-Christians endure suffering and tragedy with a grace that many Christians, intent on finding a biblical or theological reason for such events do not display. When I think of this I am reminded of Jesus’s remarks about the Centurion who asked him to heal his servant and when Jesus offers to come tells Jesus that he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but to only speak the word and his servant should be healed (Matthew 8:5-13). The interesting thing about the passage is that the word used for servant is a Greek word for servant which only occurs once in the New Testament, the word Pais. In ancient Greek literature the term denotes a homosexual relationship, that of a man with his houseboy. In other words, Jesus healed a Roman, gentile, pagan Centurion’s homosexual lover, and had the nerve to say that he had “not seen such faith in Israel.” Since the writer of Matthew used the word Pais instead of the word doulos for servant it had to be deliberate and he had to know what he was doing, but I digress…

While I do not believe that God directs or permits death and suffering, I do believe that God is not absent in suffering that people endure, that God “Emmanuel” is with us, all of us; that God suffers with us, for that is the message of Jesus, the crucified one. I also believe that God who is with us, weeps with us as well as rejoices with us. That may not be a good answer for some who want to prove that God is behind everything, nor for those who do not believe in God at all.

I’m sure that some will consider what I wrote today as blasphemy, but then I have to agree with Mark Twain who wrote, “Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.”

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Doubt, Faith and Realism: Doubting Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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A Centurion Meets a Terrorist

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This is the third chapter of a prequel to my series on Longinus the Centurion, who according to tradition was the Centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus. Today is how I imagine that the Centurion would deal with receiving orders to prepare for the execution of a condemned terrorist.

The next morning a messenger knocked on the door to Longinus’s quarters in Fortress Antonia. He told Longinus that Pilate wanted to speak to him and to report as soon as possible to Pilate’s headquarters in the fortress.

Longinus, who had been discussing the day with Decius in order to ensure his soldiers were ready for any contingency but also conduct some training was bothered by the request. He had discussed the situation in the city and about Jesus in particular the previous afternoon with Pilate and figured that unless there was some sort of incident that he would meet again later in the day to discuss the latest events.

Instead Longinus, was being ordered to report to Pilate again and it was interfering with his conduct of military business. Longinus hated dealing with politicians and diplomats and though he respected Pilate who he felt to be as decent of man as any politically appointed diplomat as any Pilate was still not a military man. He did not always understand military matters.

Longinus looked at the messenger and asked: “Tell me. what would the Governor need of me at this hour?”

“Centurion,” the messenger replied. I was only told to have you report as soon as possible.”

Bothered by the lack of detail Longinus told the messenger to go and tell Pilate that he would be there shortly. He then looked at Decius, and shook his head. “My friend, I am afraid that I will be delayed. Take care to conduct today’s training and be ready in case any trouble arises.” With that he put on his armored breastplate and cape and left the room.

When he arrived at Pilate’s headquarters the Governor greeted him cheerfully. “Centurion, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise sir…” Pilate stopped him before he could continue.

“I don’t suppose that you know why I called you here do you?” Pilate asked, irritating Longinus who feeling even more irritated by Pilate’s levity kept his feelings to his self and simple replied: “No my Lord, your messenger only told me to report here, he did not give me a reason.”

Pilate smiled. “It was with good reason, had he done so I am sure that you, like any other Centurion in the province would have found some “pressing military duty,” isn’t that what you call it? to avoid coming here.”  He paused for just a moment and before Longinus could respond continued: “Of course I know the answer, you need not say anything and I suppose if I was in your position that I would feel the same way.”

Longinus knew this was the case and had no answer to Pilate who continued.

“Centurion, this week will unfortunately be a week where we must conduct some rather unpleasant business, less than soldierly business but necessary.” Pilate paused again and motioned for Longinus to take a seat at his desk and Longinus did so, looking about the room and noticing Pilate’s civilian staff and several soldiers assigned as his personal bodyguard.

Longinus, decided to hasten the length of the visit and asked: “My Lord, may I ask why I am here? After all I do have pressing military business to attend to.”

Pilate immediately caught the sarcasm in Longinus’s words and smiled. “Centurion, you amuse me, because I know how you military types think. You see I may not have served with a Legion, but I have served with enough officers to know that you would rather be fighting the enemies of the Empire than doing police work, but we are in Palestine, not the Teutonic Forrest.”

Longinus stared back at Pilate and said nothing.

“Centurion, this week we will dispense justice to three Jewish prisoners. Men of your unit will conduct the crucifixions this Friday.”

“Yes my Lord.” Longinus’s muted response spoke more than any protest could.

Pilate continued. “Centurion, I want you to see the prisoners and in doing so know in your heart why this must be done. These men are violent criminals, and one of them is the infamous Bar-Abbas.”  Longinus looked at Pilate, and asked “the insurgent who has attacked and killed our soldiers and officials?”

Pilate nodded and replied “so you know why this is important, in an environment as volatile as Judea we cannot let a man like this remain unpunished, it would only encourage more men to rise up like him.” Pilate smiled and continued. “We cannot forget how the Jews rose up and overthrew the Seleucid rulers underestimated these Jews when that Judas Maccabee fellow led that bloody revolt.”

Longinus replied “No we could not let that happen on our watch.”

Pilate nodded in agreement and continued. “So you understand Centurion, it is an unpleasant duty, but mind you history will thank us for it, as will any God that you believe in.” Pilate finished by telling Longinus to visit the prison for himself and begin to choose his soldiers for the crucifixion detail with care.

Longinus rose and saluted Pilate, turned and left the room without another word. He was not happy but proceeded to the dungeon where he met the Jailer of the Fortress, a rather obese and dirty looking man named Alexander, a Roman citizen of Greek origin hailing from Antioch.

When Longinus reached the dungeon he immediately noticed the stench and again realized why he was a Legionnaire and not a policeman. The prison was dark, and by Palestinian standards dank and moist smelling of human excrement and body odor.

“Well Centurion, welcome to my kingdom” said Alexander, a smile pressing through his grimy face.

“Thank you Alexander, where are the condemned?” asked Longinus icily.

They are in the cells to your left. Bar-Abbas is in the first and the other two, neither as notorious as he are in the next cell.”

“What are their names?”

“Dismas and Gestas, they are violent criminals of their own accord, but they were only out for personal gain. I think that one feels some remorse, but the other seems to be a rather hardened and unrepentant man.” The words came effortlessly to the unkempt jailer

“Thank you warden, I will see them now” said Longinus as he turned to look over these men as quickly as possible so he could return to his unit.

He walked past Bar-Abbas without making eye contact and went to the second cell. The two prisoners could not appear more different. One, seemed to accept his fate while the other looked at Longinus without remorse. After about a minute Longinus asked their names. The remorseful looking one answered, “I am Dismas, I stand condemned for robbery and murder. I accept my fate Centurion.” The other prisoner glared at his mate and with hatred in his voice and eyes said to Longinus “I am Gestas, and I am not sorry for anything that I did you Roman swine.”

Longinus stared back saying nothing, his continued lack of respect for such people seemed vindicated. He turned to the other cell and looked at the burly prisoner in it. “So you are Bar-Abbas?”

The prisoner snarled “So what is it to you Roman?”

Longinus began to feel better about his mission. “Well, Bar-Abbas, it seems that you have killed one too many of my comrades and it is I who will get to exact justice on you.”

Bar-Abbas smiled an evil smile and said, “The Roman that can kill me has not been born.” He laughed at Longinus who stood silently for a moment. Then, quietly Longinus replied, “We’ll see about that.” With that Longinus motioned to Alexander the Jailer to let him out. The jailer unlocked the door and Longinus walked up the steps and into the courtyard of the fortress where his unit was practicing battle drills.

Calling Decius to his side, he said. “We have a second mission this week, the mission of executing some dangerous prisoners, including Bar-Abbas the insurgent.”

“Bar-Abbas sir?” replied the junior officer.

“The same, but we have to wait until Friday. It seems that our governor wants to make a show if his generosity to the people here. If it was up to me I would have killed them in the dungeon and been done with it, we could have said that they died of the plague.” Longinus looked at his assistant and then continued “Of course that is not how we Romans do things, they will be executed in public to show these Jews that they cannot engage in such conduct, but it will only build more resentment.”

“Sir, are you saying that our methods are wrong?” asked Decius.

“Young man, look around you. You know the history of these people. They will continue to rise up until they regain their independence or we kill them all.” He paused. “That is their history and they can do no other. After all, if they were occupying our homes, establishing their God in cities and forcing our people to serve them how would we respond?”

Decius nodded his understanding and looked at the Legionnaires practicing close combat tactics that might be necessary in a pitched battle if the city was to erupt in revolt.

Longinus continued “Decius, choose a squad of men as the execution team and another as the escort. The rest of the Century is to be trained to maintain a secure perimeter and ensure that no Jews attempt to interfere with our mission.

“Sir, where is the execution to take place?” asked Decius.

Longinus motioned to a hill visible just outside the city walls. “Over there, that barren hill. The locals call it Golgotha.” He paused. “Fitting name, the place of the Skull. I perfect place to kill people that don’t want us here wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled and continued, “don’t answer, it is a rhetorical question.”

His assistant nodded and Longinus gave the order “Carry on with training, let me know which men you think should be on the execution team later tonight.”

Longinus turned and walked away wondering what else might happen, after all, the best laid plans of men sometimes don’t work out. He silently cursed under his breath the day that he was assigned to this place, which despite its history and splendor seemed forsaken by the Gods.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Meeting of Centurions in Jerusalem

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This is another in the historical fiction series that I am writing with the Centurion Longinus, who according to tradition was the Centurion at the Cross who put his lance in the side of Jesus and who would exclaim “Surely this was the Son of God” as Jesus breathed his last.

This chapter takes up where after the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and it asked an important question regarding a passage of scripture, that of the use of a Greek word for servant which only occurs once in the New Testament, the word Pais. In accent Greek literature the term denotes a homosexual relationship, that of a man with his houseboy. It is used to describe the servant of a Centurion in Matthew 8:6 instead of the usual word for servant Doulos.  Certainly the writer of this Gospel would understand that as would his readers. However, most commentators gloss over the passage. 

The day after the entry of this Jesus character into Jerusalem was uneventful for Longinus and his fellow Roman officers. Jesus had returned to Bethany after driving out the money changers and other assorted riff-raff out of the Temple but had returned without the tumult of the preceding day, Instead, Jesus with a number of his disciples went to the Temple where he engaged the people and some of the Pharisees in a time of teaching culminating in a series of what Longinus’ Jewish spy said were comments that could be interpreted as threats against the Temple establishment and veiled allusions to Jesus being the Messiah of the Jews.

Jesus left the Temple at the end of the day without incident but Longinus’ spy indicated that the Priests and other religious authorities were discussing ways by which they might rid themselves of this Galilean would be Messiah. Now Longinus and his fellow officers couldn’t care a whit about Jewish religious disputes so long as it did not make their job keeping the peace any more difficult than it already was.

When his spy reported back Longinus briefed Pilate of the simmering tensions. Pilate was with his wife Bernice when he received the report. Pilate did not like what was going on but had no contact with any of the religious leaders from any faction since his arrival and was troubled. His wife warned him in the presence of Longinus “not to have anything to do with that man” and he told Longinus to continue monitoring the situation, He also dispatched a messenger to the commander of the Legion in Caesarea to send reinforcements to Jerusalem just in case things got out of hand. Until then, Longinus, the Primus Pilus, or senior Centurion of the Legion was to help him maintain a close watch on the situation and hopefully keep the situation from boiling over.

After his meeting with Pilate and Bernice, Longinus sat around the tavern in Fortress Antonia with several others of his officers and Centurions from the Legion currently in Jerusalem. His Optio, or second in command Decius, a Roman from his former unit who had accompanied him to Palestine was there, as were two Decurio officers from the cavalry detachment and his Tesserarius, Quentin, a man who held a position much like a First Sergeant. Late in the evening another Centurion came to the tavern. This Centurion, was accompanied by his young servant was in charge of the Century based in Capernaum in Galilee.

The Centurion, Flavius by name ordered an ale from the barkeeper and walked over to the table where Longinus and the other officers sat. After the exchange of formalities Flavius sat with them. His young servant remained at the bar sitting alone.

Longinus had known Flavius for several years and known him to be an honorable man, though he did not necessarily approve of the very “Greek” arrangement that he had with his Pais,* which was common in the Roman and Greek military units, he respected Flavius’s soldiering abilities, leadership and integrity. Flavius and his Century had arrived in Jerusalem the previous night after Jesus had made his entry into the city. Longinus was glad to see Flavius because he felt that an officer stationed in Galilee might be able to shed more light on this man of mystery who had Jerusalem up in arms and so troubled Pilate.

Flavius asked what Longinus knew about Jesus, and Longinus told him what he had seen the day before as well as the information that he had obtained from his own Jewish spy.

Flavius, nodded and then began to tell Longinus and the other officers of his encounter with Jesus a couple of years before in Capernaum of Galilee.

Flavius began: “Longinus my friend, I met this Jesus in Capernaum and he is no ordinary man.” He paused to take a drink and continued as Longinus nodded for him to continue.

“It was a difficult time my friend. My Pais was very ill, sick to the point of death, He lay in our quarters and I heard that the miracle working Rabbi named Jesus was in town. Now, you know my friends that I care not a thing about what these Jews believe but I was desperate and from what I had heard and seen I believed that the Gods had to be with this man.”

Longinus continued to listen and then asked “Why didn’t you go to our Temple and have our Gods intercede for your Pais?”

“My friend I had already done that but my Pais’ condition had worsened. So I found this Jesus fellow as he was entering the city and sent some Jews that I had befriended to him.” He paused. “Those Jews convinced Jesus that I was a friend of the Jews and had done many good things for their community, and this my friend is true.”

“So the Jews helped you contact this Jesus fellow?” asked Decius. Longinus looked at his subordinate disapprovingly and asked Flavius to continue.

“I tell you my friends, this man is like no one that I have ever met, the Gods are certainly with him, whether our Gods or the Jewish God I know not which but he is not a normal Rabbi.”

The officers looked around the table as Flavius continued.

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“Gentlemen, when this Jesus came to me I felt something that I have never felt in my life. Jesus asked what he could do for me and I told him of the sickness of my Pais and he asked if he could come to my quarters. I replied that I didn’t need him to come, because I was not worthy for him to come under my roof but to only say the word and my Pais would be healed.”

Longinus looked at his fellow Centurion in disbelief. Flavius sensing this continued. “My friend, I could not believe that I uttered those words but Jesus peered into my eyes and I knew that he knew all about me. Then he replied that “your servant is healed” and then exclaimed to all of the Jews around us that he “had not seen such faith in all of Israel.” Then, he put his hand on my shoulder, blessed me with some Hebrew blessing and walked away with his friends. When I returned to my quarters, my Pais, the young man over at the bar was well.”

Longinus saw the deep emotion that Flavius was expressing and raised his mug. “A toast to this Jesus!, whatever and whoever he he is.”

“Here here” replied those at table as Flavius looked on and several laughed. He had not expected such a reaction and said softly.

“My friends I don’t think you understand.” He paused a second and looked Longinus in the eyes. “I do hope that whatever happens in the next few days that no harm will come to this man. I would hate that my spear could bring harm to him.”

Longinus responded. “I hope that nothing happens to cause any of us any problems. The city is boiling with emotion and unlike your friend Jesus, most of them hate us and would rather see us dead, and some of their leaders from what I understand wouldn’t mind seeing him dead either.” Longinus paused and emptied his mug, drinking the ale to the last and then continued “My friend, I appreciate what you have to say, but we have to do our duty for the Empire regardless of our personal feelings. We are outnumbered here and this Jesus, as much as we may find him fascinating is the source of much of the current discord.” He looked at Flavius. “You do understand this?”

Flavius looked down at his drink and looked back up at Longinus and then at the officers around the table.

“I do understand my duty my friend, but you have to know what he did for me.”

“We do understand my friend” replied Longinus, “but our honor is loyalty to Caesar, not any other man.”

“I know Longinus, I do know, more than you think, but what if he is more than just a man?”

Longinus and the other officers sat silently pondering Flavius’s words. The silence was deafening and slowly the junior officers individually asked to be excused, begging pressing duties to attend to leaving Flavius and Longinus at the table. The bartender brought each man another ale and they continued to drink silently.

To be continued…

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Greek word Pais is the word used in many Greek texts to to describe a homosexual relationship. The use by Matthew (Mt 8:6) in his account of the healing of the servant of the Centurion used the word Pais to describe the servant, not the typical Doulos which is used for slave or bond servant as is most common throughout the New Testament. In fact this is the only use of the word in the New Testament. Many Biblical scholars and linguists, though not completely certain do entertain that possibility that the Centurion that I call “Flavius” and his servant were a Gay couple.

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God’s Going to Get the Church for Its Greed

JoelOsteen_FOR_PROSPERITY

Back when I was in seminary at Southwestern Baptist, before the Fundamentalist takeover of that once proud school, my Church History professor, Dr. Doyle Young made the comment “God’s going to get us for our stained glass windows.” It was in the context of the rich and indolent nature of the American church. This was back in 1988 and 1989, sadly, things have only gotten worse.

In his various lectures Dr. Young was always able to weave church history into contemporary issues. He was really an amazing professor and he understood human nature more than most theologians. As such his lectures always had a profound amount of biography of the men and women who influenced church history. In fact, that biographical narrative is something that I have adopted in my own teaching and writing about history. That biographical emphasis helps keep me grounded and allows me to see that some things never change.

 

I noticed this again tonight when I posted a meme on Facebook about the televangelist and mega-church “pastor” Joel Osteen purchasing a 10.4 million dollar home. All of a sudden I had two men, one the son of a prominent televangelist that I worked for in the early 1990s, and the other a man who served with me as a Priest in my former denomination and now is a fairly high ranking priest in a diocese of the Episcopal Church open fire on me and defending the opulence of Osteen. When I asked what Jesus would do the televangelist’s son made comments made comments which were almost mocking of Jesus and his death for us. The Episcopal priest continued his defense and finished his post with the comment “cheers!” Frankly I found nothing to cheer about in their comments. When one of the men who served with me at war commented on the post, the Episcopal priest attacked him.

Do I really care what these men think of me? The hell no, not anymore. I invited both of them to drop me as “friends” because frankly I don’t want to be associated with people who make their living off the backs and hard earned money of the tithes and offerings of people who often cannot afford it and then defend the greed and opulence of wealthy minsters. I cannot do that. In fact when I retire from the Navy I will help other ministers and churches but I will not take any salary. I cannot do that, it seems to me that the Gospel which is supposedly freely given to us, should in turn be given.

Does that mean that I think that ministers should not be paid? Not at all. But there is a point, which is different in every church where what a minister makes is too much, and when the money that is sucked into a church or ministry only serves to prop that church or ministry up without helping any of God’s people but the livelihood of the minister.

I have heard so many rationalizations for this by ministers and Christians that it makes my head swim. I just remember reading the notes, letters and phone calls from poor people giving what they could not afford to the televangelist that I worked for in the early 1990s. Thinking about what those people gave and wrote breaks my heart to this day, especially when I see that man on television and radio talking about and actively backing the politicians who do the most to further impoverish the poor and support war without end.

Barry McGuire, the rock and roller who wrote and performed the song Eve of Destruction wrote another song after he became a Christian in the late 1960s called Don’t Blame God (for the Sins of America). Some of words in that song, a song of protest by a new Christian at the American church are even more accurate today.

On every worthless coin
and every dollar bill
you see the words in god we trust
but outta fear we kill

we got million dollar churches
but nobody’s on their knees
we got too many selfish people
just doin what they please

Sadly, because of the lives and actions of such people, many are fleeing the church, even those who grew up in it, the baptized. The fastest growing religious demographic in the country is the Nones those who ascribe to no religion. Many people blame God for the action of such people, but if I understand the message of justice of Jesus, John the Baptist and the prophets I know that it’s not God to blame. Instead it is us, those who claim to represent God while making our living off the backs of the weak and supporting the powerful. The Price Bishops of the Middle Ages would be jealous at how well we American Christians do this.

The song’s chorus would be banned in most churches especially those who have sold their souls for political power and economic wealth:

so don’t blame God for the
sins of america
america is fallen from the ways of the Lord
Don’t blame God for the
sins of america
livin for the dollar, she’ll be dyin’ by the sword

 

Anyway, this was one of those articles that I had thought about writing for a while and just needed a trigger. I guess I got it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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