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“When You Are Lost, You are Not Alone” Doubt and Faith in Lent

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a convoluted day. It was Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and the beginning of Baseball’s Spring Training. It was also a tremendously busy day at work that included multiple meetings, conducting the Ecumenical Ash Wednesday liturgy, the usual program, administrative, personnel, and facility management issues. Likewise because it was Valentine’s Day I didn’t want to screw it up. Since I usually find a way to screw up birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and other assorted holidays involving marriage it was a bit stressful. Thankfully I did pretty well regarding Valentine’s Day, I started by trying to suck up in the days before Valentine’s Day doing little things to build up some extra points in case I screwed up on the actual day, and for once I didn’t totally screw the pooch, in fact I did rather well, but I digress…

Of course if I had wanted to be an ass I could have celebrated Ashentine’s Day, that is the rare day when Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day enabling asshat spouses, fiancee’s, or partners to tell their beloved that they can’t take them out for a fancy dinner because of the fasting rules prescribed by the Church on Ash Wednesday. This confluence doesn’t happen often, the last time it did was seventy-tree or seventy-four years ago, so cheapskates and other turds don’t get the opportunity to do this often, and the fact that I even thought of it means that while I may be a complete turd at times that I would never tell Judy: “Sorry, I can’t take you out or give you anything for Valentine’s Day because it’s Ash Wednesday and I don’t want to lead you to hell.” I value my life too much. That being said I can imagine that there are some people who will do exactly that, not because they really are trying to observe the true meaning of Lent, but because they are cheap asshats who look for ways out of doing something nice for their partner using the cover of religion to do it. But again I digress as I so often do…

The truth is that a decade after returning from Iraq I still struggle with faith and belief, and doubt is always a part of my life and Lent has never really been a good time for me. In the early years of this blog I masked my struggle with humor about trying to make getting through Lent focusing more on the outward displays of faith and the actions of prayer, abstinence, and fasting than really wrestling with why the penitential aspects of Lent are important; far from being onerous they help us remember our shared humanity; especially with the least, the lost, and the lonely.

That being said I do still have faith, more than I have had for quite a few years and when it came time to schedule an Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at my Chapel to compliment our Roman Catholic Mass which was scheduled for the evening I decided to lead it. I am glad that I did.

Since I was not serving at this chapel last year I had no idea how many people might show up or what the composition would be. Since I’m in an odd situation being an Old Catholic Priest, in a sense occupying a line between Roman Catholicism and Lutheran Protestantism I never know exactly what to expect in such a situation. Thankfully I have been able to build bridges with our Catholic and Protestant communities in the ten months that I have served here and I had members of both congregations at the service. Again not knowing what to expect I used the liturgy from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a couple of more Anglo-Catholic modifications in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which I used in my previous denomination because it kind of splits the difference between Protestants and Catholics.

I do love celebrating the Eucharist and conducting the liturgy and it’s funny that after almost 22 years since I was ordained as a Priest I am beginning to acquire a taste for Ash Wednesday and Lent. This is especially true when I read the Biblical passages from the Lectionary associated with them, especially those of Ash Wednesday which include Isaiah 58: 1-12; Second Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; and Matthew 6:1-6, and 16-21. When I read them, especially the passage from Isaiah I am continually amazed at how they speak to the state of American Christianity in the age of Trump. I’m going to try to avoid politics for tonight but I could see Isaiah preaching them today almost any church in America, especially the great Evangelical and Charismatic megachurches, and television ministries whose leaders have abandoned all pretense of being “Biblical” as they prostrate themselves before the President in pursuit of raw political power masked in an extremely thin veneer of religion.

In my sermon I did not hammer home on that but I did spend a lot of time with the Isaiah passage without being overtly political; which in my position that would have been less than wise. Sometimes it’s better to let the scriptures speak for themselves.

I also talked about doubt, something that many people, including Christians of all persuasions struggle with but few ministers really honor as a measure of faith. I used my own struggle with faith and doubt after Iraq. I struggled and I still struggle with faith, I believe but sometimes I don’t, and I am certainly not someone who thinks that he has the Christian life down, in fact sometimes my witness; my temper, my language, and so much more about me do not reflect Jesus. I am not okay with that, but it is the truth. Since Spring Training began today I let the congregation know that I am a Mendoza Line Christian, meaning that I have a Christian life batting average of about .200, just enough to say in the game.

Doubt is usually ignored, and most of the Christians who I know who struggle with doubt are afraid to talk about it in church, you tend to lose friends by expressing doubts or struggles in most churches. To me it is no wonder that the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States are those people with no religious preference and those who have either fled the church or those outside who look at the Church and find nothing redeeming in it. Sadly, most of these people actually like or admire Jesus, some even believing that he is the Son of God, but who are so disgusted by the actions of Christians that they have walked away. As Pedro Cerrano in Major League said: “Ah, Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” 

As I finished my sermon I decided to read the words of the homily given by Father Flynn played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Doubt. The film is powerful, set in 1964 and I won’t do spoilers to tell you what happens in it and how it ends, you’ll need to watch it yourself. But I will share the words of Father Flynn’s sermon because they are so symbolic of our time when so many people struggle with faith. His words which compare the collective experience of people whose world has been shattered versus those whose struggles are invisible to most people. I know what that is like and because of my own struggles I have come to be able to read the unspoken angst, fear, doubt, and weariness of the lonely.

“Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation? Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself? It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?

‘No one knows I’m sick.’

‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’

‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’

Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.

I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations – had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance? There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

So as Lent begins I encourage those who struggle and doubt to realize that there are a lot more people like then they realize; and for those who are not struggling not to look down on the lonely, not to be afraid that doubt is contagious, but instead to do the little things that remind people that they are not alone.

Likewise it is important to realize that some of the people who outwardly appear the most sanctimonious, the most sure of their beliefs, and the most rigid in their opposition to others also struggle, and that their display of certitude masks their own doubts and their own aloneness.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Lenten Mendoza Line and a Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It looks like we’re about halfway through the season of Lent, my least favorite season of the liturgical year and I am doing pretty. Good. I’m going to celebrate my 57th birthday a day early and that causes me to reflect on life. Thankfully I am doing much better than I was this time last year when I was off my anti-depressants for 9 days and dealing with the deaths of two friends and a rainy Easter birthday. I was in a nasty funk, all my PTSD stuff, reflections on my own mortality and upset about the loss of friends. I never want to experience an Easter, or a birthday like that ever again.

This year I am happy. I seem to be doing life a bit above the Mendoza Line over the past year and that is good. For those that don’t know what the Mendoza Line is, it is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

But anyway, as I was thinking about perspective this year with all the craziness in the world and the antics of our President which scare the Bejeezus out of me, I am reminded of the words of former pitcher Bill “Spaceman Lee” to put things in perspective. Lee noted:

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” 

Anyway, that’s just a thought that oddly comforts me when I don’t well as I should in life or anything else. Let’s face it, in spite of everything we have to be able to put things in perspective and appreciate what life we have no matter how bad things get. Hopefully, we get to wait a few million years for the cosmic snowball to do its thing without the President or anyone else in the world blowing it up.

That being said I have so much to be thankful for in life, my wonderful wife, my family back in California, my three great Papillon dogs, my friends, my readers here, and getting to do what I love doing. Hopefully, this year is good for me, as well as all of you. Thanks so much for being a part of my life.

So, have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ash Wednesday 2017

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Stuck in the Middle: A Lenten Meditation

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them” 

I have had a number of instances recently where I have brushed off some rather rude comments of Fundamentalist Christians on both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am always amazed with the certitude of how they judge those with whom they disagree. Such certitude mystifies me because it is usually based on some form of circular logic about the Bible, an example being “the Bible is true because God said it is, and God said it in the Bible, thus it is true. It is a fallacious argument, but one that is very commonly held in Fundamentalist Christian circles but also in other religions and sometimes even in Atheism. What is funny, for the most intensely fundamentalist people is the amount they have to choose to disbelieve in order to believe in what they say. Eric Hoffer noted: “It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.”

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where this topic is explored. A scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim. As Hoffer wrote: “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.”

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As 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.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion. They were and are true believers.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a special investigator who turned an investigation into a witch hunt on the Enterprise. Picard told Worf, who had initially been taken in by the investigator:

“But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.”

And that is true.

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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Miscellaneous Musings on a Wednesday Night

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Well my friends it is another Wednesday night in the season of Lent and all is well at our little household. Since my return from Gettysburg Sunday night I have been in recovery mode. It is amazing how much work went into that trip and when I count in the fact that I had to spring forward over the weekend I have to admit that I was totally exhausted when I got home. I was in bed early last night and for once I got a relatively decent night of sleep in.

At work today I spent time with people, read, and did some reflecting on other Civil War and Gettysburg subjects. I also did some musing on Ethics and the state of it in our military, especially in the senior leadership over the past 15 to 20 years or so.

Both history and ethics matter a great deal to me. I think in our quest to become more efficient that we have forgotten both, and that many of the troubles that we face in this country are because we lack any real appreciation for history, philosophy or ethics. The fact is that they are not disciplines that lead to “job creation,” which is the mantra of so many Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, that Unholy Trinity, that it makes me want to vomit. Last year after he became Governor of North Carolina, the new governor and former “successful businessman” Pat McCrory promised to cut off financial aid for students taking courses not directly related to a “job.”

Of course to him this meant the humanities, history, philosophy, the social sciences and the arts. Not STEM or classes that teach people how to turn widgets, those  are immune because they produce a truly subservient class of people who do not ask questions.

Of course the study and teaching of the subject that McCrory and others want to cut are distinctly related to the preservation of our culture and society so I can see why a businessman like McCrory would so deftly attempt to sweep them aside. They are inconvenient if you are intent on creating a society to create a society of mindless drones who can do jobs but are incapable of any critical thought. So we wonder why at every level of government, private industry and even the church that people behave in ways which defy the norms of a civilized society.

Despite how loud many religious conservatives decry how far we have fallen, they are often complicit in the very things that they decry and condemn. The reason for this? Because they exalt in thought and action the very philosophies that they supposedly stand against. But then they have bought into the hateful philosophy of Ayn Rand and her violent Social Darwinism and are too poorly educated to realize it.

Wow, I think I just chased that rabbit and I have to admit that I digress… sorry.

So anyway, where was I?

Okay I remember, I was writing about what I was doing after the Gettysburg Staff Ride. It has been an interesting few days. I love the fact that there are baseball games on television again. It is a pleasant sensation to look up from a couch, bed or bar to see a baseball game. It will be even better when I am back at Harbor Park in section 102 watching the Norfolk Tides of the International League. Baseball you see is one of the few things that brings peace to my soul. No matter where or what level the sight of that diamond and smell of the freshly cut grass brings peace to my often troubled soul.

Tonight I am watching the Ken Burns Baseball series. I was struck by the comment that men who fail seven out of ten times are heroes. I think that is the case in real life. Most of us are lucky if we hit .250 in the game of life, much less .300. As for me I tend to operate by the grace of God at the Mendoza Line, or .200, just enough to stay in the game.

I have a number of writing projects planned, I am completing an application for a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership in which I will be able to combine my academic and professional interests into a multidisciplinary degree program. Unlike a lot of people pursuing a Ph.D. I already am pretty sure about the subject I will pursue for my dissertation. For those that haven’t guessed by what I have written the past few weeks it might have something to do with the Civil War.

So tomorrow at work I will start working on my Ethics class, the Gettysburg Staff Ride and preparations for teaching some other classes.

It is a good life. Have a great night and blessed tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Enduring Message of Lent for those at the Mendoza Line

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Jesus said to his disciples:“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

Today was Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent. For those who do not know me or are not familiar with my life, story or writings it is a time that I best describe as one where I am conflicted. Lent is my least favorite season of the liturgical year.

But before you start picking up stones, arrows or even bullets to schwack me, let me tell you why…

You see I have no issue with what Jesus said, which is at the heart of the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter six. In fact I totally agree with what Jesus said in the passage because I know that I am a total screw up and as far as the Christian life goes I am a “Mendoza Line” performer.*

I am always amazed when I read the words of Jesus and compare them with the way many American Christians do the Christian life:

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them…”

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting…”

What has become apparent to me is that many Christians are quite proud at being the new chosen people and many actually look down on unbelievers or for that matter even other Christians who do not fit with interpretation of either doctrinal correctness or personal holiness.

I can no longer do that and to think that for quite a few years I did is something that bothers me.

You see I am not bothered by people who really know their faith, nor am I bothered by those who those who live a beautiful life of personal holiness and piety. Such would be petty especially because people who are able to do this are probably doing better than me. What bothers me is when people hold their holiness over the heads of other people as if they were better than others.

Such attitudes are not the Gospel, but they are all too common and sadly the world can see right through Christian hypocrisy. That might be what people inside the church, especially young people are fleeing it, and why more and more people are rejecting what they see in the visible church, while still wanting to seek God and a spiritual life.
I have to admit that if I was not already a Christian in the face of so many intolerant, vile, hypocritical people who claim to represent Jesus that I would reject the Christian faith out of hand. There is nothing that I want from people that feel that they are superior to others when all that we have as Christians is from the “free gift of God.”

I really don’t need to be reminded that I am a screw up. At the same time there is something liberating in the message of Lent. It runs counter to the message of our culture. As I mentioned last night I will be giving up some things, but not because I am any better than anyone else, but to remind me of my humanity and my need for God.

I doubt that I will ever really look forward to or enjoy Lent, but I don’t have to look forward to it or enjoy the season in order to have some spiritual growth and benefit from it. I hope to have some spiritual growth during this season of Lent. For the first time since I returned from Iraq I am going to try to do a few of the more external observances, but will not get stuck in them. Instead I will seek to learn and grow spiritually during this time.

Pope Francis mentioned something last year that I think is relevant to us during the Lenten season, especially of we in our efforts to seek God find a way to exclude him through our own self righteousness:

“Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being.”

To be honest that expresses the frustration I experience during Lent and I pray that somehow in my life and witness of Jesus the Christ that I will not through my own self-righteousness drive people away from him.

Peace

Padre Steve+

*Note: Mario Mendoza with a shortstop who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was an excellent defensive player but his hitting left much to be desired. In the course of his career he hit for an average of .215. To this day a ball player who hits at the .200 level is known as a Mendoza line hitter, it is the level that a player can hit at and still stay in the major leagues.

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