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A Visit to Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the first time in 22 years during our recent trip to Germany I returned to the city where a little known Augustinian Monk and Professor of Theology, Dr. Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation and changed the world forever. There had been other revolts against the Catholic Church by various dissenters but none of them had ever found and ear with rulers who by their support could change the status quo and protect them from being tried as heretics.

To be tried as a heretic meant that you were also in violation of the law of the local monarch or the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and likewise an enemy of the State. Once convicted of heresy the the opponents of the regime were then executed in whatever way the Church and State deemed to be the most effective way of discouraging future dissenters.

Luther was not only a keen theologian, he knew how to gain the support of common people, as well as the princes and other members of the nobility who knew that they were getting screwed by both the Church and the Empire. Thus while his theological motives based on his experience of the grace of God were genuine, he understood the political implications of his theology which broke the chains of Germans Protestants to Rome.

The result would lead Luther’s political supporters into multiple wars against Rome and the Holy Roman Empire, and then against German dissenters who dissented from Luther. It would also set the stage for successful breaks from Rome in England, and in Geneva, where John Calvin proclaimed a harsh and cold version of Protestantism. In many ways Luther never fully rejected parts of Catholic doctrine such as the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, and the efficacy of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, despite writing circles around himself to show his differences with Rome. He would never be Protestant enough for Calvin, or Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, or the later more radical Calvinist separatists in France, Holland, England, and Scotland. Of course none of those were acceptable to the Radical Reformers of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement in Holland which spread to England in the guise of the early English Baptists, who were simply Anabaptists who had thrown out pacifism.

Luther was a remarkable man with many flaws. His theology led to married clergy, the Bible being translated into German and then many other languages. In fact Luther’s translation of the Bible into German helped birth the modern German language as much as the later King James Bible did for English some 80years later.

Likewise, through his emphasis on the Three Solas, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides, and Sola Scriptura he opened the door for individuals to have more say in their spiritual lives and interpretation of the Christian faith, which led to many more breaks with the Church, his Church within a few years. Luther opened the door to a Christianity which has never stopped splitting, often with ugly consequences, and sometimes reforming for the better. Luther was a huge influence on John Wesley who influenced me like William Wilberforce and John Newton who helped abolish slavery in England and it’s colonies. At the same time one cannot overlook just how Luther’s vehement denunciations and demonizations of the Jews helped set the stage for the German anti-Semitism that brought about the Holocaust.

But all that being said from a theological point of view Luther shattered the theological oneness of the western church. Instead of one Pope, Luther opened the door for everyone to be his own Pope.

His theology also allowed rulers to break from Rome and still support their own State Church. In the various fiefdoms of Germany some went with Luther, others Calvin, and still others Zwingli. In England, Henry VIII took the Church of England out of Rome and that church recognized the English King, or at times the Queen the head of the Church.Without Luther to shatter the barrier between Church and State, there would likely never have been the freedom granted to the great

This when the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States wrote those documents they were absolutely opposed to the government of the United States having a State religion or for that matter even endorsing any sect of Christianity. The great Virginia Baptist and friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, John Leland wrote:

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

Luther certainly would not have agreed with that, but he opened the door to it and we should all be grateful that he did. One wishes that the Christian Nationalists of the United States would read their United States history because they are try to establish a particular minority sect of Christianity, a fundamental evangelicalism rooted in the political theology of John Calvin as the official State religion. To do so they are using a man who would shame the Medici Popes in his profound disregard and disrespect of anything resembling the Christian faith; for his carnal indulgence, his wanton greed, vain pomposity, and his narcissism which borders on self-deification. Luther would have recognized him and them as frauds of the most odious kind.

Luther’s flaws are many. He suffered severe, probably clinical depression, and many PTSD from the beatings administered by his father. That was not helped by his understanding as a young man, theology student, and monk of a very punitive and angry God who he could never please. His life crisis came at a time in his life, between 28 and 32 years old, when developmental psychologists tell us that many great thinkers, intellects, and leaders have their breakthroughs.

He was also at times terribly sarcastic, vindictive, and angry. He could turn on friends and former students who broke with him in a visceral manner. He was also beset by an anti-Semitic streak that while it was a part of the times that he lived was used by other German anti-semites, especially Hitler’s Nazis in their persecution, and later extermination of the Jews. He was also prone to see the religious wars of his time, be they against the Turks, the Roman Catholics, or the Radical Reformers, through the lens of an apocalyptic worldview.

Despite all his flaws he is one of the most important men in history. Without his break with Rome and the support of European nobility there probably would have been no Enlightenment as we know it for the great artists, writers, scientists, and others of that period would likely have never had safe places to go beyond the limits of Medieval Scholasticism and Aristotelian philosophy.

Likewise the principle of the Reformation is that Reformation never ends. The Church must continually reform or die. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case, the Christian Church has always been resistant to change and frequently is the last holdout against truly evil movements. Christians, not just in the United States, frequently heed the call of racism, nationalism, and misogyny more than any other group. Of course there are other religions where many of the faithful and their leaders do the same thing, but today’s post is about Luther and the the Christian faith.

Luther understood that the Gospel must speak to the issues of the day. He said: A gospel that doesn’t deal with the issues of the day is not the gospel at all. In our day those issues are ones that I think that had he lived among us that Luther would see and preach about. I could see him boldly condemning the court preachers of Donald Trump, (yes I see the split infinitive and I don’t care – to “boldly go” as someone we’ll know has said). Men like Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham wouldn’t stand a chance against the Monk from Wittenberg. Neither would the Medici President and his sycophant supporters who scream in indignation when he or they are exposed for who they are.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Right Wing Christian Political Correctness

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“religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

There is an epidemic of political correctness in the United States today.

Of course if you listen to Fox News, most Evangelical preachers, or conservative pundits that is always blamed on secularists or liberals who are almost universally defamed by such critics. They are accused of being communists, fascists, atheists and even worse for simply positing that they don’t believe, that they might have doubts, or that like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison or the early Virginia Baptist leader and friend of both Madison and Jefferson, John Leland argued that no religion should have the franchise on or control of the government.

For this they are accused of being politically correct, or enforcing political correctness, when in fact they are actually politically incorrect, because they dare question the minority of people who have the real political and economic power in this country, Conservative Christians.

I have run into this political correctness, that of Christian political correctness. Dare come to the defense of the civil rights of Gays or Lesbians and see what happens. Defend someone who questions the faith, see what happens. Defend the rights of non-Christian minorities and see what happens. If you do you will be attacked, condemned, and defamed. You will be called all matters of things, and if you are a member of such a church you will be expelled. I know, because I was.

You see for me I am an American and I will defend the rights of all Americans to their beliefs so long as they do not try to use the police power of the government to shove those beliefs down my throat. Equity is for all. I have served for over 33 years in the military alongside Americans of every race, creed, political belief and ideology, and yes even sexual preference. I have seen people excel, I have seen people promote the rights of others, and I have seen witch hunts done not in the name of the law, or any real American principle, but on the basis of conservative Christian religious beliefs being sold as the only true American beliefs.

That my friends is the ultimate political correctness. It is the political correctness that has to defend itself by invoking the wrath of the Almighty against unbelievers. It is that of the Inquisitors, the Crusaders, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Calvin’s Geneva, Zwingli’s Zurich, Cromwell’s England, Orthodox Russia and a host of other theologically based “government.”

That kind of government is called “theocracy.” It is what many of those who came to this country sought to flee, except that some like the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided to use their new freedom away from the Church of England to persecute Baptists, Quakers and others, especially women who they accused of witchcraft. It as as Robert Heinlein said: “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

I have seen the results of such religious hatred in the Balkans and the Middle East. I will fight to make sure that it doesn’t happen here, even if that means that fellow Christians condemn me and dare to say that I am not a Christian. I will be politically incorrect, the real kind of political incorrectness that is the most unsettling to “true believers,” that of the questioning believer who defends unbelievers.

Like Eric Hoffer, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and so many others I recognize the danger posed by those who believe that they are God’s chosen people destined to carry out their understanding of God’s will on earth.

As Jefferson said:

“I know it will give great offense to the clergy, but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them.” 

I expect neither, and I will advice for all, inspire of the Right Wing Christian Political Correctness that dominates in this country. The people that Eric Hoffer called “true Believers.” people who are likely to see themselves  “as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Just read the people who write and espouse Dominionist or Seven Mountains theology. They are the ones running the asylum of the Christian Right today. Look it up, or look at any of the articles that I have written about them. They are not the fringe anymore, they run the Republican Party and almost every one of the potential Republican Presidential Candidates espouse those views, or are afraid to stand up to them. Likewise most of the mainstream media gives them a pass, because they too are afraid of them, they are afraid of being called “politically correct.”

Barry Goldwater, the progenitor of the modern conservative movement warned us about them: He said in 1994:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

I am no longer afraid, because I have nothing to lose besides my soul, at least that’s what I am told. Frankly I would rather be [part of the inferior “out group” than any part of this supposedly superior “in group.” 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Social Justice from the Prophet Amos and Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Barna poll asked the words which most describe Christianity. The results: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, people for the most part raised in the church.

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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Padre Steve Gets into the Christmas Spirit in Spite of Himself

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“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Charlie Brown

Well, it it still Advent but despite all my heartfelt leanings of liturgical calendar correctness I have caught the Christmas spirit early this year. I don’t know why, especially because I can be such a Grinch this time of year.

It began last week when I had to make 8 dozen cookies for our annual “cookie exchange” at the hospital where I serve. We had the exchange on Friday and it was combined with our Christmas Tree (Holiday Tree for those more politically correct than this moderate liberal) lighting.

Let’s face it without Martin Luther we wouldn’t do the Christmas tree thing anyway, the Calvinists that first settled this country were such party-poopers that that they thought the whole concept of celebrating Christmas was sinful. (See my article Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas  http://wp.me/prGqV-1tg  ) So I guess if we want to play the whole politically correct thing the Calvinists forefathers and mothers of our current Evangelical Christian defenders of “Christmas” actually had more in common with the current critics of the holiday than its defenders? But I digress…

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Martin Luther with his family at Christmas

So in the spirit of Martin Luther, that beer drinking foul mouthed German instigator of the Protestant Reformation, I have gotten into the Christmas spirit. For the first time since I was in Iraq I feel an eager anticipation of the coming of Christmas.

Puritan Christmas Ban

The Puritan’s Idea of a Very Calvin Christmas

Like I said it began last week. First there was my cookie baking adventure The Easy Baking Bachelor of Christmastide which was a success. In fact I plan on repeating it to some extent tonight, gifts for my minions at work and friends at the bar tomorrow. The cookie exchange took place Friday. I brought in the cookies and when I got to work one of the fellow members of the board of directors asked me if I was going to change into my dress blues as I was wearing my khakis. It was at that point that I thought to myself “Oh shit.” I had forgotten that those of us on the board of directors who are on active duty actually dress up when we do this. You see my dress blue uniform was hanging in my apartment, 25 miles away. Since I had to attend one of those good occasions where we were promoting a couple of dozen young sailors I could not leave immediately to change into the uniform.

I was happy to see the Sailors get promoted but I was not happy about having to make the trip home and back. Yes I could have weaseled my way out of the dress blue uniform but as much of a weasel as I can be I hate to look obvious. So when the ceremony ended at 0900 I dashed to my office, grabbed my cover, which is what we in the Navy call a hat and ran out to my car. I made it home in good time and then things started going to hell.

Molly, my little dog Molly decided that she needed to go out and since I was home early she assumed that I had all day to indulge her. It was a power fight, the little Papillon-Dachshund mix decided that she would fart around. Eventually I got her inside and went to get in my uniform, which to my surprise still had the large medals which I had on it for a change of command ceremony I had been participated in, and which I had to switch out for mere ribbons. I hurriedly changed the ribbons, gave Molly her “cookie” (not one of the chocolate chuck cookies but a dog treat) changed into my uniform and dashed to the car.

At that point something happened in me. It was as if I was having a Grinch moment, but in a good way: As the story goes: “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”

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It was a damn close run adventure getting back to the base on time. It seemed that if there was a red light that I caught it and to make matters worse, if there was a minnie-van driven by a doddering retiree or soccer mom who decided to do 5 miles an hour under the speed limit in the left hand lane I got behind them. In between praying and cussing and dodging in and out of impossible traffic situations I realized that I really wanted to make it on time. It was as if the Force was with me as I wove in and out of the insidiously poor drivers who could not drive nails and should not be behind the controls of modern automobiles.

Now this was strange because such ceremonial events are usually, no matter what the occasion are painful for me to attend, being that I am mildly introverted and anti-social. It was like when the Grinch’s grew and he had to dash to Whoville to save Christmas. It was almost a conversion experience, a Christmas miracle if you will. I was possessed with the need to make it on time despite the obstacles.

Despite construction zones, slow drivers hogging the fast lane, and traffic lights I was able to get to the hospital parking lot at 1028 with the ceremony scheduled to begin at 1030. I had no time to waste. Our employee parking lots are not convenient to getting into the building fast. We reserve that right for patients and visitors. This is probably a good business and PR practice but not helpful at this particular moment. So I found an empty spot in the outfield got out of my car and started to run. It was like the good old days before O.J. Simpson allegedly killed his wife Nicole, when he ran through airports in a suit for Hertz Rent-A-Car in TV commercials. I was flying. This is the great thing about being in shape and not straining to get into the uniform. I ran up the hill by our ER and down the hill, jumped curbs, ditches, and barriers as I wove between pedestrians and cars in the parking lot.  Marines, Sailors and civilians looked at crazy Navy officer dashing through the lot with amazement. Surely they though it must be an emergency, and in a sense it was. I was running out of time and I had to give the invocation.

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I made it on time and then the ceremony was delayed for 15 minutes. I breathed a sigh of relief and found that my heart had indeed grown three sizes that day because I was not cussing and swearing and acting like a complete idiot. It was a Christmas miracle. The ceremony went well and the two hours of conversations and chit-chatting that followed was enjoyable despite the uncomfortableness of my patent leather military issue shoes. I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that all was well in my world. When the day was done I went home and hung out with Molly before doing usual grilled chicken salad dinner at the neighborhood bar.

One would think that the story would end there but then one would be wrong. I carried the duty pager over the weekend and at about 0100 Saturday morning it went off. It was a call from the Emergency Room. A man was in cardiac arrest and I was needed. I rolled out of bed, waking up Molly who looked offended and I put on my uniform to head to the hospital. When I got there the patient had died, but I spent time and prayed with his wife, then other members of the family who arrived over the next hour. When all was done I drove back home where I woke up Molly, who by the way does not think kindly to being woken up at 0415.

The rest of the weekend was relatively uneventful. I went to our hospital Christmas party  Saturday night which was nice and on Sunday celebrated a Eucharist at home after sleeping late for the Second Sunday of Advent. I was tired but I felt great.

So this morning, despite not sleeping well due to holding the duty pager I got up and prepared for work. I had made one mistake however. I assumed that the North Carolina DOT had made appropriate traffic arrangements for traffic control since the bridge that connects us with the mainland is down to one lane due to the resurfacing of the road on it. I anticipated a 10-15 minute delay at the most, however the contractor did not use flagmen but used a timed traffic signal. The result was a traffic nightmare. It took an hour and a half to cover two miles. However instead of ranting and raving as might be my custom I decided instead of listening to news, political commentary, ESPN or even the 70’s channel to tune in to the Sirius radio station that played Christmas songs. It was great and I didn’t stress out. It took nearly 2 and a half hours to get to work today, normally it is about 35-45 minutes. But in that time I realized that I didn’t need to be a Christmas Grinch after all and that my dash to hospital on Friday was not a mistake.

So tonight, I made more cookies to distribute to my minions and friends tomorrow and watched my favorite television Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch that Stole Christmas. 

I am enjoying the lead up to Christmas for the first time in a long time and it feels good. I do hope that in spite of the Fiscal Cliff and all the problems of the world that maybe more people will have a Grinch conversion moment this year and perhaps like Charlie Brown discover the meaning of Christmas, not only now but all year round…

Christmas time is here

We’ll be drawing near

Oh, that we could always see

Such spirit through the year

Oh, that we could always see

Such spirit through the year…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Martin Luther and My Theological Formation: An Old Catholic Priest talks about Luther’s Influence on his Life

The Luther Rose: When they stand under the Cross Christian Hearts turn to Roses

“Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.” Martin Luther

When a young Priest and Theology Professor at the University of  Wittenberg named Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg it changed the course of Western as well as Church history.  He also changed mine.

Martin Luther was the first of a series of theologians that helped make me what I am now. When my Church History professor Dr. Doyle Young and Systematic Theology professor Dr. David Kirkpatrick introduced me to Luther’s writings and his “Theology of the Cross it was earth shaking.  It was his Theology of the Cross brought me to an incarnational understanding of the Christian faith because it is only through the Cross that we come to know God in a truly Christian sense of understanding.  For Luther the Cross was central to understanding the humanity’s relationship to the Trinity, and stands against Calvin whose understanding of God’s will and predestination from before time began tends minimize the Cross, for Calvin it is a mechanism but for Luther it is the most profound and personal revelation of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The incarnational and Trinitarian found in the Theology of the Cross also opened for me essential nature of the Eucharist to the Christian faith and which helping bring me to a catholic understanding of the faith.

The relational aspects of the Theology of the Cross were personalized in the Three Solas; Sola fides by faith alone, Sola Gratia by grace alone and Sola Scriptura by scripture alone. These became the hallmarks of the Reformation and without getting into the weeds to dissect all the ramifications for the Church and the world impact the way that many Christians practice and express their faith to the current day.

The Catholic in me tends to discount Sola Scriptura because Luther himself was such an imperfect practitioner of this. I find that the Anglican and Old Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason is a more Biblical way of understanding what we can understand of God as well as in bearing witness of the self revelation of God in Christ in our world than is Sola Scriptura.

The Reformation which began when Luther posted his “theses” on the door of the Schlosskirche broke the hold of the Roman Catholic Church on Europe brought about many changes. It was the watershed moment when western church unity was fractured forever. As the years passed this increasingly fractured and diverse church in the west and helped end the primacy of the Church over the State.  The Reformation was also essential to the future Enlightenment as educational institutions, philosophers, historians and scientists gained the freedom to operate free from the all pervasive reach of the Church.

In the beginning when he walked up to the Schlosskirche to post his theses Luther intended nothing more than reforming and curtailing abuses in the Catholic Church and how the Church saw grace, faith and scripture.  Instead he changed the course of history in ways that most modern people, especially conservative Christians fail to comprehend today.  If they did they would not be embracing such heresy as the Dominion movement and it’s Seven MountainsTheology.

I did a lot of study on the Lutheran Reformation in and after seminary. In 1996 while stationed in Germany as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain had the privilege of organizing a series of Reformation tours to Wittenberg, Worms and Heidelberg.  We went to Wittenberg on Reformation day where we attended the Reformationstag service at the Schlosskirche.   I led a walking tour of the town that day.  One of the parishioners from the chapel asked me if I had been toWittenberg before because I seemed like I knew every place in the town.  I had to tell her that I had not been there in person but because of my study had imagined it so many times that I knew every place by heart.  When we went to Worms where Luther on trial before Charles V was told to recant his writings it as the same, except that in Worms the town hall where the Imperial Diet met was destroyed long ago.  However a stone in the pavement marks the spot where Luther concluding his defense before the Emperor Charles V and the assembled Princes and prelates with these immortal words:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is legend that Luther said the words “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!”  These words were probably only added later by someone else to make the story more interesting as they do not appear in the council notes.  Not that Luther would have objected.  The film version is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0tk_EvWXQQ&feature=player_embedded

Likewise Luther’s debate with Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburgcolloquy regarding points of doctrine was significant for me. It was held that they might unify their separate reform movements. They agreed on all points except the Eucharist where Luther enunciated a very catholic understanding of the “Real Presence.”  Zwingli argued it to be a symbolic memorial though he conceded that it might have some spiritual component.   Luther would not budge and to each of Zwingli’s arguments pulled back the tablecloth to reveal the words “This is my body, this is my blood” which he had carved on the table.  They departed without achieving unity, something that has plagued Protestants to this day and when Zwingli was killed in battle when leading the militia from Zurich to fight the approaching Catholic Army.  When Luther heard about the Zwingli’s death he commented Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matt. 26:52]. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.” (Table Talk #1451) When I visitedMarburg with my friend Gottfried in 1997 I stood in the room where the men met and standing at that table I imagined Luther arguing with Zwingli.

Martin Luther helped begin the journey to the Priest that I am now. Others similar to Luther, the Catholic theologian and reformer in his own right Father Hans Kung who was able to do what Luther couldn’t do, make a case for Luther’s theology as part of catholic theology.  Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann has brought Luther’s theology to the modern world and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who showed me an example of how to live out the incarnational message of theTheology of the Cross in a world gone mad.  Kung’s book On Being a Christian, Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and The Crucified God have being influential in my theological formation. Bonhoeffer’s contribution was how that theology is important in standing up to oppression in all forms, his writings including The Cost o Discipleship, Ethics Creation Fall and Temptation, Life Together and Letters and Papers from Prison.  All of these men helped me in my transition following seminary to a moderate Anglo-Catholic to an Old Catholic faith that places a high place to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Reason in interpreting and living out the faith.

Of course there are others that have influenced me, the early Church Fathers, Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, Henri Nouwen, Father Andrew Greely  and Bernard Häring to name but a few.  But even so I have always had a special place in my heart for Luther even with all of his flaws which were many.  Luther was earthy, spoke his mind often in a direct and coarse way and had no problem with having fun or good beer.  I relate to him a lot and am in his debt because he helped me become who I am today.

Peace

Padre Steve+


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Filed under christian life, faith, History, Religion

Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5

Today is Reformation Day that is right sports fans, Reformation Day.  Now most people, unless they are Lutheran or a really “reformed” Presbyterian or Reformed Church kind of Christian have no clue about this. However when a young Priest and Theology Professor at the University of Wittenberg named Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg it changed the course of Western as well as Church history.

martin-lutherMartin Luther

Luther posted his “theses” which was basically points of theological debate on the door of the Schlosskirche it broke the hold of the Roman Catholic Church of Europe, brought about what would become an increasingly fractured and diverse church in the west and established the primacy of the State over the Church in Western nations.  Luther intended nothing more than reforming and curtailing abuses in the Catholic Church and how the Church saw grace, faith and scripture.  His act and subsequent actions when put under the “ban” by the Pope drew to him the support of German nobility who desired to be free of the Holy Roman Empire and rapidly engulfed Europe in religious, political and military conflict.

The theology that Luther developed based upon the Three Solas; Sola fides by faith alone, Sola Gratia by grace alone and Sola Scriptura by scripture alone became the hallmarks of the Reformation and without getting into the weeds to dissect all the ramifications for the Church and the world impact the way that many Christians practice and express their faith to the current day.

For me Martin Luther was along with Fr Hans Kung, Jurgen Moltmann, and Alistair McGrath a key figure in the development of my faith.  At some point I will probably get deeper into this on this blog, but right now it suffices to say that it was Martin Luther who confirmed to my the essential nature of the Eucharist to the Christian faith and which helping bring me to a catholic understanding of the faith versus a truly reformed Protestant understanding of it.  I do not agree with all of Luther’s points or ideas but his Theology of the Cross brought me to a much more incarnational understanding of the Christian faith especially in regards to understanding that it is only through the Cross that we come to know God in a truly Christian sense of understanding.  For Luther the Cross was central to understanding the humanity’s relationship to the Trinity, not as Calvin would enunciate God’s will and predestination from before time began.  Kung from the Catholic side is a big Luther supporter (see On Being a Christian) and Moltmann has brought Luther’s thought to the 21st Century in Theology of Hope and The Crucified God as has Anglican Theologian and Luther scholar Alistair McGrath (The Mystery of the Cross.) All of these men helped me in my transition following seminary to a moderate Anglo-Catholic expression of faith that places a high place to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Reason in interpreting and living out the faith.

luther_at_wormsLuther at the Diet of Worms

I did a lot of study on the Lutheran Reformation in and after seminary and in 1996 while stationed in Germany as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain had the privilege of organizing a series of Reformation tours to Wittenberg on Reformation day where we attended the Reformationstag service at the Schlosskirche and I led a walking tour of the town.  One of the parishioners from the chapel asked me if I had been to Wittenberg before because I seemed like I knew every place in the town.  I had to tell her that I had not been there in person but because of my study felt like I had from the time we stepped off of our tour bus.  I also directed a tour to Worms where Luther on trial before Charles V was told to recant his writings and made his timeless statement:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is legend that Luther said the words “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!” These words were probably only added later by someone else to make the story more interesting as they do not appear in the council notes.  Not that Luther would have objected.  The film version is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0tk_EvWXQQ&feature=player_embedded

marburgZwingli and Luther at Marburg

Likewise his debate with Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburg colloquy regarding points of doctrine was significant for me. It was held that they might unify their movements. They agreed on all points except the Eucharist where Luther enunciated a very catholic understanding of the “Real Presence” and Zwingli held to be a symbolic memorial though might have some spiritual component.   Luther would not budge and to each of Zwingli’s arguments pulled back the tablecloth to reveal the words “This is my body, this is my blood” which he had carved on the table.  They departed without achieving unity, something that has plagued Protestants to this day and when Zwingli was killed in battle when leading the militia from Zurich to fight the approaching Catholic Army.  When Luther heard about the Zwingli’s death he commented Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matt. 26:52]. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.” (Table Talk #1451)

I have always had a special place in my heart for Luther even with all of his flaws which were many; he was earthy, spoke his mind, and had no problem with having fun or good beer.  Additionally he had a bit of an anger problem, suffered from clinical depression and had issues with his father.  Luther could be an ass, but then I can be an ass too.

Well the “unhappy few” at the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina are moving right along in their book and Bible burning crusade led by their Grand Master Pastor Marc Grizzard. In the past few days he has gotten into a pissing contest with a very conservative and should I even say “Fundamentalist” theologian named James White.  Evidently Mr. White is on the opposite end of the Fundamental spectrum according to Grand Master Pastor Marc along with “the agnostics, liberals, New Evangelicals, and Bible doubters.”  I did find it fascinating to see how Grand Master Pastor Marc’s little brain works in the text of their terrible translation tiff which is linked here: http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/subpage570.html

I especially enjoyed this comment from his most recent webpage update where he castigates Mr. White:

“I had rather be uneducated and irrational and know that I have God’s preserved, inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, than to be a scholar who doesn’t know where God’s Word is. One person said, “I’d rather be an fool on fire, than a scholar on ice.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying a person should not better themselves or study. They should! But if study and education is going to rob you of your unwavering faith in the KJB, than leave the education to the Bible doubters. I will never be open to anything but the KJV, call me what you want. I don’t care!” Pastor Marc Grizzard

MARC KNEELING2Profiles in Stupidity Pastor Marc Grizzard

Since he has invited people to call him anything they want I think idiot works well. Have no fear he is already talking about next year’s event:

God has showed me why this years event went around the world. Check back in a couple of weeks as we begin to “Turn this world upside down.” Acts 17:6 “…These that have turned the world upside down” “Coming to a town near you!!!!” Please not my town.

Make arrangements now, if it gets popular you might have to book through Ticketmaster or the Amazing Grace Baptist Church Box Office.  By the way the start time is 7PM and Marc has said if you are not a member or have an invitation from him you are not welcome, and that includes law enforcement who promise to be there, kind of reminds me of the concert in the Blues Brothers. Of course he will have to compete with the folks at the fictional Landover Baptist Church to have the world’s greatest book and Bible burning. http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news1002/bookburning.html

Of course I wonder about a group of separatist Baptists staking their faith not on Jesus but the King James Version. It seems absurd for a group that descends from people who valued religious liberty to be burning book or Bibles of any kind.  The fact that they have set an Anglican translation, authorized by a flaming homosexual who hated, persecuted and killed the early English Baptists and which is actually a later version than the 1611 that has multiple versions, the Oxford and the Cambridge and is based on a text that was not the most common text used by the early or “ante-Nicene” church is beyond me.  The fact that King James onlyism is only about 100 years old and comes from a unusual 7th Day Adventist preacher and was advanced by the founder of the Pensacola Bible Institute who experimented with Zen Buddhism, thought about becoming a Jesuit and believed in a bunch of stuff including UFO;s that most Fundamentalists would deride only adds to my mystification.  But then to quote Forrest Gump “stupid is as stupid does.”  Congratulations Pastor Marc you win the Gump award for 2009. Congratulations, your 1973 orange Ford Pinto is waiting in the A-1 Auto Salvage in Fayetteville.

Tonight the Abbess and I will go to a Halloween party at our favorite restaurant the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.  I went as a baseball player from a scary team, the Orioles and the Abbess is going as a Hippy Chick.  It was fun, nice people, good music and 70’s and 80’s music videos and great beer.

Mariners Yankees BaseballAlex Rodriguez Broke out of His Slump

Now I sit watching game three of the World Series. For once replay was used to overturn a bad call, Alex Rodriguez getting his first hit, a 2 run home run that hit the lens of the right field television camera that was initially ruled a double.  Cole Hammels was hit hard as I predicted giving up five runs before he was pulled in the 5th, one of the runs coning off the bat of Andy Pettitte who drove in Nick Swisher and then later scored.  The Yankees bats began to come alive, Nick Swisher who had had a miserable post season hit a home run and a double, and Alex Rodriguez broke out of his slump with his 2 run homer. Hideki Matsui hit his second home run of the series with 2 outs in the 8th as a pinch hitter against Brett Myers.  For the Phillies the hot hitting Ryan Howard has continued to slump striking out 3 more times tonight to make him 2 for 13 with 9 strike outs in the first three games.  On the other hand Jayson Wirth continues to hammer the ball hitting two solo shots tonight.

Tomorrow should be nice, Church in the morning after an extra hour sleep, followed by some study for my exams and game four of the series tomorrow with C.C. Sabathia coming back against Joel Blanton.  Advantage has to go to the Yankees with Sabathia on the hill and thier bats starting to come to life. Should be another great game.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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You Don’t Know What You’re Missing Until You Find It: Judy Experiences Real Hearing

This is a very personal post as it deals with my wonderful wife Judy aka the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and very real struggle that she has faced her entire life to hear.  Judy was a neo-nate baby back when survival rates were not so good.  Her late father used to talk about when she was in the hospital that he overheard two doctors at his place of business talking about the baby girl who wasn’t going to live.  But she survived.  However, something, God only knows what happened and auditory nerves were damaged leaving her with a serious hearing loss.  Her loss is what is known as a “ski-slope” loss.  She had a decent amount of hearing in low frequencies.  The loss cuts halfway into the speech range and she has almost nothing in the high frequencies. Unfortunately her late parents didn’t pay much attention to things like this and it wasn’t until First Grade that a teacher noticed that Judy could not hear very well and talked funny.   She started speech therapy in second grade. It was when she was eight that she got her first hearing aid, and the second one came a couple of years after.

Back in those days, the mid 1960s hearing aids didn’t do much for people with this kind of loss.  They basically amplified the noise that they heard and nothing else.  So if you had a big loss in the speech range but hearing in the low frequencies you only got more of the low frequencies.  It would be like if you removed all the treble from whatever music system you use and just turned up the bass with a bunch of distortion thrown in.  Such was the case with Judy for many years. In spite of this she learned to function as much as she could as a “hearing” person. She worked hard in speech therapy to say sounds that she could not hear.  By the time that I met in my freshman year of college her many people who did not know her simply assumed that she might be German or some other European transplant.  She took German in college did pretty well and became President of the German club. She did well enough to get around and communicate with Germans in Germany using her German skills when we were stationed there.  In college she went into the program for deaf students at California State University Northridge.  It was there that she became much more proficient in American Sign Language.  Since college Judy has continued to get better hearing aids which in almost every instance have allowed her to gain more hearing capability. As this has occurred she has continues to do things that a person with her amount of hearing are not supposed to do.  She sings second soprano in her church choir and plays the guitar.  All of these things according to the numbers should be impossible for her, but she has developed great speech discrimination despite her hearing loss, but even so still misses a lot.

Now Judy never really knew what she was missing for many years.  Every time she got new hearing aids they would be some improvement, sometimes a lot of improvement over the older versions.  This became much more dramatic with her first set of digital hearing aids.  However, even with relatively recent technology featured in her current set of hearing aids her hearing is only 62% of normal, in other words a 38% loss.  This is not bad compared to the 77% loss that she has without them.  So even best case she misses a lot and cannot understand things like words to popular songs on the radio or a CD player.  She cannot hear much that we in the hearing world take for granted.  If she wants to hear she may have to keep the aids up so loud that they cause headaches.  Until they developed hearing aids which could be adjusted for directional use in a crowded environment the background noise at restaurant or other public venue would make it very difficult to hear who she was talking to.   She cannot hear someone whisper, nor understand if someone turns their back on her as they talk even with her current hearing aids. She has worked her ass off to speak well, sing and play the guitar.  She has a good voice; most people do not know just how bad her hearing is because she does well so many things that she is not supposed to do within the parameters of her loss.

It is funny how many Christians, especially Charismatics and Pentecostals have been uncomfortable with someone with this kind of disability around.  It seems that many have a hard time dealing with the fact that there are some people who do not get healed.  The fact that Judy has suffered with this all her life and never been healed has made our life at times in church rather interesting as people had words from the Lord that she was going to be miraculously healed and often wanted to pray for her, which most of the time Judy allowed them knowing that they meant well and if God wanted to be healed that it would happen.  Since we had seen many other miraculous things in our life who were we to limit God?  At the same time it was never a problem for us that she was not healed, unless of course she lost the use of a hearing aid.  During this time I don’t think that either of us subscribed to this being either an attack of Satan or the will of God.  For us it kind of fits in the, well…to put it in the street vernacular “shit happens” category of life, even to good people including Christians.  There is something in Scripture talks about the rain falling on the just and the unjust so I think that both of us believe that this is part of the human condition and not something personal on the part of either God or the Devil. Since Judy was a baby when she lost her hearing I have a hard time believing that somehow God caused it or foreordained it.  I guess I’m a pretty bad Calvinist or Augustinian huh?

Now I do believe in and seen what I would have to describe as miracles, including a fair amount in our lives.  At the same time I do not see these as a daily occurrence.  Miracles are such because they are not ordinary daily occurrences no matter how hard we believe and want them to be.  Some people for no fault of their own or God’s never get healed, in fact there is a 100% certainty short of the Second Coming, which I believe will be triggered with the Cubs winning the World Series, that all of us will die sometime in our lives, some even more than once, like Cubs fans.

Last week this changed.  Judy has a pair of hearing aids with a very new technology that has leveled the playing field.  She is now experiencing what it is to really hear for the first time in her life.  It has been at times a very emotional experience as she heard certain sounds for the first time, or the nuance or depth of other sounds.  Things that she could not do before like understand someone who was not directly facing her, for example someone behind her at a stadium or in the car.  Or hear the soft staccato sound of rain water coming down the drain spout, or hearing the shower upstairs from downstairs and understand song lyrics on the radio or CD, and movie dialogue.  With each new experience hearing things that she has never heard before and often being so overwhelmed that she starts to cry, she knows that she has crossed the Rubicon and cannot go back.  She realizes what she is missing all of these years and and wants to make sure that she never goes without it again.

Her hearing aids are loaners which she has on a trial basis.  We are praying that Tricare will approve her new hearing aids, and while I expect that somehow it will work out but Judy is dubious. I keep on telling her like Donald Sutherland’s character “Oddball” in Kelly’s Heroes “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

Now they are quite expensive and we hear from her Audiologist that Tricare seems not to be doing much approving for new hearing aids.  Before this was seldom an issue. However for some reason I am hopeful.  What has surprised us is that some Christians have suggested finding a way to lose or destroy the old hearing aids to ensure that she gets the new ones.  This was shocking because neither of us could do that, even if we wanted to.  Now I might pray for them to die, or for the dog to eat them or for Judy to get caught in a sudden cloudburst with no cover so they would short out, but we can’t in good conscience destroy or lose them.  Now there is the possibility that one has developed a short after we went to Kira’s outdoor wedding due to moisture accumulation in the heat and humidity.  If that is the case and it is dead or dying then the hearing aids may have made the decision for us and that would be a good thing, it might be the first time that I have been thankful for the awful humidity back here.  So like a team that is down in the 4th inning by a big score we can always pray for rain…right?

I do hope that she gets the new aids with no delay or just a minimal one.  The difference that they have made in her life is amazing and it is really cool to see how well she is doing with them.  I am blown away with every new discovery that Judy makes.  You can find some of her thoughts about this at her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess at http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/

Peace, Steve+

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