Tag Archives: Martin Luther

Drive a Spoke into the Wheel of Injustice: Christ the King Sunday 2017

A Nazi Propaganda Poster Showing the Costs of the Sick and the Disabled

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I did some substitute preaching at my chapel. For me Thanksgiving weekend can be a challenging time to preach. It always falls on the Solemnity of Christ the King or the First Sunday of Advent, neither one of which works well with the holiday that we call Thanksgiving.

Today was Christ the King Sunday and the Gospel lesson was from Matthew 25 verses 31-46. Believe you me it’s not a lesson that you will hear preached in most of Trumpified Evangelicalism, or anywhere in the Prosperity Gospel movement that has sidled up to Trump and men like Roy Moore. Somehow I can hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I read this passage fully understanding that many of my fellow Christians in the United States today have completely abandoned the Gospel message for the raw and shameless pursuit of political power, masking it under the pretense of values that they blatantly; through their lives, actions, and silence, mock. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Bonhoeffer’s words like those of the Gospel stand in stark contrast to people who seem intent on pursuing policies that not only are attacks on the poor but on all but the richest of the rich. They stand against the words and actions of Christian people who would in the face of overwhelming evidence would support the actions of men who are serial adulterers, perpetrators of sexual assault, abuse, rape, and even men who force their girlfriends to have abortions all because they support their political agenda. Honestly, if I was not already a Christian there is nothing that these people could say to ever convince me to become one. As Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

That being said these are the words of the Gospel in today’s lesson from Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus Christ is a different kind of King. He is not like the Kings of Europe who the founders of the United States rejected. He is not the one who insists on his “divine right to kingship”, nor is he a despot as much as some of the testimony of various church leaders and even biblical writers occasionally make him out to be. He is one who takes up the cause of the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the unbeliever, and yes, even the repentant perpetrator, for because they share his humanity they are all also his brothers and sisters. Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“In the raising and exaltation of Christ, God has chosen the one whom the moral and political powers of this world rejected – the poor, humiliated, suffering and forsaken Christ. God identified himself with him and made him Lord of the new world ….. The God who creates justice for those who suffer violence, the God who exalts the humiliated and executed Christ – that is the God of hope for the new world of righteousness and justice and peace.”

That was the message I preached today in somewhat a truncated form without mentioning any of the names of the politicians, preachers, or pundits that I was critiquing on both sides of the political divide; but the implication was clear. This isn’t just politics it is a matter of faith as my friend Father Kenneth Tanner, a theologically conservative and truly pro-life Priest noted:

“No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency. It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.”

I do not know many men like Father Kenneth, but hopefully he and others like him will become that voice that cries out in the wilderness of what calls itself conservative or Evangelical Christianity to bring life to what has become death. Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

With every breath I take and every word I speak I will endeavor within the scope of my faith, my priesthood, and my office to do exactly that. I never want to have the burden around my neck that Martin Niemoller had around his when he remained silent, and even supported Hitler until too late he recognized his error. His words remind me of how until just ten years ago that I supported men who were willing to turn the Christian faith upside down for the sake of a place at the victor’s table. Niemoller’s words haunt me.

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Thankfully I know a number of Evangelicals with a conscience both inside and outside the military who do not bow the knee to political expediency, not to mention some more moderate, liberal, and progressive Christians who also speak out. That gives me hope to keep speaking and working regardless of the cost because no matter what happens with Donald Trump or Roy Moore I don’t see anything changing the amoral and diabolical political schemes of the Christians that support them. They will simply sell their souls to the next best beast who will satisfy they longing for political and religious power over others, completely disregarding the words of Jesus.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Here I Stand: The Reformation at 500 Years

Me at the site where Martin Luther made his stand in 1996

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was Reformation Sunday, the Sunday where many Protestants celebrate Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche on October 31st 1517.

For me it is one of those weird times. I am not Protestant, though Martin Luther is one of my heroes, nor am I Roman Catholic. I am a priest in a small communion that is most like the Dutch Old Catholics and the Utrecht Union. I live in the uncomfortable middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Thus I have to make my way between a variety of types of Protestants and Roman Catholics in order to survive have a good deal of appreciation for the historic faith of the undivided Catholic Church before the Great Schism of 1054, and Martin Luther’s expression of Protestantism which culminated in his break with Rome and excommunication when he defended himself before the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papal legates at the Diet of Worms where when demanded to recant his views he said:

“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

When I read Luther’s defense of his views before the princes and prelates at Worms in 1521 I still get a chill up my spine. It is hard to imagine anyone today daring to stand up to ruling powers unless they have the support of worldly powers greater than oppose.

What Luther did when he nailed his theses to the door of the Schlosskirche was to set into motion events that he could not dare to imagine. By kicking in the doors of the church to real dissent he opened the way to the secular and progressive views of the Enlightenment, without which there would have been no philosophical or political underpinning for the United States of America and the hallmark of our national ideal found in our Declaration of Independence which says “we hold these truth s to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Luther recovered the key to the Christian faith, that is faith in the Crucified God. As Lutheran theologian Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”

Because of that we owe the flawed and often troubled monk and theologian from Wittenberg a debt of gratitude. As for me, I know that I do. I may not always be right, nor to I claim to be, but as a matter of faith and politics I have to say “here I stand.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Faith and Politics

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The American patriot Samuel Adams once remarked: “If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

My friends, that time has arrived. As I wrote a few days ago, Patriotism is distinctly different than nationalism and the President, the Vice President, and many of their most strident followers, especially so-called “conservative Christians” are not patriots but nationalists who in their stridency would co-opt God into their battle with their political opponents. The German Catholic theologian of the Second Vatican Council, and student of Martin Luther, Hans Kung wrote words that are quite applicable today: “Religion often is misused for purely power-political goals, including war.”

Really, what else could motivate Trump’s followers on the Christian Right to not only defend him but in doing so toss their belief in the Crucified God to the curb for the crass cause of gaining political power?

Somehow the old motto of the Wehrmacht and the Imperial German Army before seems to suit them Gott mit Uns or God is with us. Sadly, while a Christian who believes in the incarnation of Christ as a man, born of a woman may take comfort in the belief that God shares our humanity, the concept of Gott mit Uns is the understanding of nationalism and imperialism bent on the domination of other people and other countries is foreign to the ministry of Jesus and the early leaders of the church. Sadly, in our day, the Imperial Church has found a new savior, President Donald Trump and unless one is taking a knee for the National Anthem, one better be ready to bow their knee to this President or face the wrath of both the State and God, at least say the self-anointed prophets and priests like Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham, who demand that people, even non-Christians follow their lead and obey the President.

Despite the best attempts of the Imperial Church beginning with the Emperor Constantine who cemented the alliance of the Church and Empire to secure his kingdom, and for that matter every empire that followed, has been resisted by people of conscience. The fact is that this Imperial Church concept is not only foreign to the Gospel but also to the founders of our country who resisted every attempt to to impose a state sponsored religion on the people. But neither do the most strident supporters of the President on the Christian seem to think that is important. Likewise these “disciples” neither think of the future of generations to come and their responsibility for perpetuating the Christian faith. Instead they sell their birthright for an illusion of political power that will fade as quickly as the grass in winter.

Future Christians as well as non-Christians who care about this world will look at them and wonder how they could support a man so opposed in almost every conceivable way to the faith of Jesus the Christ. The same Jesus who became incarnate, was born of a woman, who hung out and ministered to the very people who the current “faithful” despise. This is the Jesus who suffered under the scourging of Roman soldiers, was abandoned by his own people, died on a cross as a criminal, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. According to scripture he rose again from the dead bearing all the marks of his humanity, including his scars.

This is what Martin Luther called “the theology of the Cross” and one cannot understand the Christian faith, and I do say faith, without at least trying to comprehend, for it flies in the face of those who desire an earthly kingdom where alleged Christians dominate the government in the perpetually vain attempt to establish the kingdom of Christ on the earth. The best modern exponent of the theology of the Cross, German Lutheran theologian Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”

Why do I say this today? Well actually I began this article a couple of days ago with a different concept in mind, but I basically had writers block. But meditating on it as I walked today I was reminded of just why I stand so strongly against what the President has been doing and how the allegedly Christian Right has sold its soul to him. I cannot look at scripture, profess my belief in Jesus and reconcile that belief with a sham Gospel that despises the poor and values earthly power and prosperity.

Sadly today I had a Facebook follower, a man who I do not know, but who is a Byzantine Catholic Priest tell me that he would no longer follow me because of my “constant anti-Trump rants.” That didn’t bother me at all. I don’t know the man and everything I see that he posts, including his pictures shows me that his faith is more concerned with power, both ecclesiastical and political than the theology of the Cross.

So when you read my criticisms of the President, please know that much of my political beliefs are formed by my faith, a faith that I struggle with on a daily basis since my deployment to Iraq in 2007-2008. For me this is important, because though I believe I still doubt. But there is something that I don’t doubt and that are the words of the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, and the First Amendment and that means that I cannot abide a President who flaunts all of these things and supposed Christians who sell their souls to defend him. I just can’t go there. I heartily agree with John Leland, the Virginia Baptist pastor who fought to ensure religious liberty for all when his fellow Virginian Anglicans tried to establish a state church after the colonies has secured their independence from England. Leland worked with James Madison to craft the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment which both President Trump and his Christian supporters seem to want to destroy.

We are in a terrible time of testing. The German pastor, theologian, and martyr during the Nazi Era, Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Strong Beer is the Milk of the Old: Brewing the Padre’s Pils

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great author of the Protestant Reformation, Dr. Martin Luther, in old age noted: “We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.”

There is truth in that statement. The monk theologian of Wittenberg knew his beer.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I got to brew about ten barrels of what will be called The Padre’s Pils at Gordon Biersch. I had a great time with our master brewer, Adam Gurtshaw and the experience helped inspire me to learn the craft of brewing when I eventually retire from the Navy so that as a brewer I can help out at whatever craft breweries are located wherever we eventually decide to retire.

You see I really don’t want to own the brewery, nor to I want to be in charge of anyone or anything when I retire, but I would like to be able to help out or substitute as need be. As I have told people for a number of years, I have the Sam Weinberg * retirement plan, in that I plan to have no responsibilities when I retire from the Navy. I don’t want to be in charge of anything or anyone, but I digress…

Today was cool because I got to learn about brewing and doing it was fun. It is something that I could enjoy doing. There is activity, combined with some science, and artistry to craft a great beer. I wouldn’t mind doing that as a way to keep busy when I retire and maybe supplement my income a bit by helping out in different breweries.

So in about four weeks or so this beer will be tapped at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. Unless something unexpected happens I should be back from the Oktoberfest in Munich in plenty of time for the release. I’ll let you know of the official release date when I have it, and when I do come on down and enjoy this or any of the other great beers that Adam brews.

So until we can drink together I ask you to consider the words of Martin Luther:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

* Sam Weinberg was played by Kevin Pollack in the film “A Few Good Men.” His quote “Sam Weinberg I have absolutely no responsibility here” is my post retirement plan.

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Ash Wednesday 2016

cross-ash-wednesday

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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The Saddest Day: Rest In Peace Molly Fur

mollbeach6

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a tough day at Padre Steve’s home as we had to put our oldest dog, Molly Fur down. It has been a day where we have shed a lot of tears.

Dean Koontz Wrote:

“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

Molly was fourteen years old, a half Dachshund and half Papillon mix who was a rescue. Molly was the most amazing dog that we have ever had the honor of loving. Some people talk of being dog-owners, but we are dog-parents as we have never had any children of our own. Our dogs have been our children and we have been blessed to have all of them. Frieda, who was literally the “Dog from Hell” held us hostage for sixteen years was smart, beautiful, devious, and conniving. She fought us to be the Alpha of the family to the end of her life.  To her we were just the incompetent help.

Greta, our second baby, was sweet and lovable. But Greta was basically a “cookie-cutter” Wiener Dog. She was serious, and dour, and one hell of a tough dog. She was strongly territorial and woe betide any big dog who infringed on that territory. She took a mouthful of fur out of a Chow once, but I digress, this is about Molly…

Molly the Wonder Fur… I have a feeling that this article will eventually become the outline of a book, because Molly was amazing. I posted a short note about her loss with a picture of her running down the beach in North Carolina on my Facebook page after we put her down. Both Judy and I have been crying a lot today, even though it was time and Molly was suffering. Since posting that note I have been comforted by the comments of many friends, especially those who knew and loved her, of course reading those made me cry more, but I think that is okay. Anyway, let me tell the story of Molly Fur here. Gilda Radner said: “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.” 

We had lost our first dog, a Wire Hair Dachshund named Frieda while I was deployed to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea in April 2001. In October 2001 my wife Judy was at the veterinarian with our other Dachshund, a smooth-hair red named Greta, or Greta-Poo for a routine visit when she met a lady holding what Judy presumed to be a long-hair Dachshund puppy.  The lady explained that she had found the puppy along North Carolina Highway 24 in Carteret County covered in tar. The lady had cleaned her up and had brought her to the vet to get checked out and to get her immunizations. 

molltaingoat

Since we had a great deal of experience with Dachshunds Judy told the lady that they could be quirky and that if she needed any help to let her know. Three days later we received a call from the lady explaining that she could not hand the puppy as it was too much for her older dog and asked if we wanted her. Of course I said yes. We got to the lady’s home and were confronted with a dog that certainly was not a full-blooded Wiener Dog. The puppy had legs and her ears were mounted wrong, but she had a long Dachshund body and brilliant red fur. She looked like a little red fox. I fell in love at first sight and we took her home, thus began the saga of Molly the Fur.

Now Greta our Dachshund was not thrilled to have a puppy. Greta was mommy’s baby and was not going to let anyone come in the way. She was not happy and ensured that Molly knew that, however, Molly was undeterred and one day when Greta tried to bully Molly, the Moll kicked her ass. After that the too maintained a state of detente, not really liking each other but working together to raid the cupboards, steal food and to raid the kitchen garbage can. When Greta had to put down in June of 2003, Molly became an only dog-child.

Molly was always smart, in obedience school she was not the most obedient but she charmed people and she was the class clown. As she got older she became scary smart, but unlike Frieda who used her brains for nefarious purposes, Molly was simply inventive, resourceful and undeterred in finding solutions to any obstacle that she faced. Likewise, Molly’s cheerfulness and sweet demeanor was something that endeared her to everyone who ever got to know her.

mollbirds1

Looking for Birds and Squirrels 

Molly was also became daddy’s girl and despite the fact that I was often deployed or frequently on the road that never changed. Molly was daddy’s girl from day one until the end.

We almost lost Molly when she was seven, when she developed a strange spinal infection. It was a difficult battle and she was in a lot of pain but she overcame it and had completely recovered in about a month’s time.

However, that infection and Molly’s recovery showed us that she was even smarter than we had imagined. As I mentioned the infection was painful for her.  She was basically put in enforced bed rest in a large laundry basket, which we were the enforcers. Molly handled that well and let us know that if she was hurting that she did not want to be picked up.

One funny thing that she did was to start screaming like a two year old child whenever Judy approached her basket. It was amazing. If she didn’t want to be picked up she didn’t bark, she screamed a blood curdling scream. When she recovered she went back to normal, but continued to amaze us with the new and inventive ways that she dealt with obstacles.

Molly loved Christmas. Her first Christmas we wrapped her up a toy and gave it to her. She immediately unwrapped it and began to play. thereafter every Christmas we did this and every Christmas she opened her presents with the joy of a child.

mollypresents

She also came to love the snow, she was never much a fan of rain, but she loved the snow. It was funny during  our “Februwinter.” Molly was not in the greatest shape but handled the amazingly severe winter weather with aplomb, she with Minnie and Izzy who we had just got, had fun in the snow.

mollsnow

Molly in her first snow, December 1983

Molly always had a sense for when we were hurting or sick. If we were not doing well she became “Nurse Molly.” Judy gave her that name because of her devotion to trying to make us feel better whenever we were sick or down. Since I am basically a Chaplain version of Doctor House, Nurse Molly was a tremendous comfort.

mollgrin

When I returned from Iraq I was a mess. PTSD, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, night terrors and chronic sleep problems plagued me, and often still do. However Molly looked after me and I give her credit for helping save my life during those incredibly dark times when I often saw no hope and wanted to die. Over the years it was Molly’s amazing resiliency and devotion that helped keep me alive.

puppylove

mollyandmommy

When I was assigned to Camp LeJeune a second time in 2010 Molly decided, after a visit where Judy was recovering from Achilles Tendon surgery that she wanted to stay with daddy. How could she not?

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Molly Tracking a Deer in my back yard in Emerald Isle

I lived in an apartment under a beach house in Emerald Isle. Outside my door there were deer, squirrels, birds, and did I say deer? I lived about three-tenths of a mile from the beach and every day she and I would take a walk, she would chase deer and then were would hit the beach. In Virginia we have a small back yard and though there are squirrels and birds it could not compete with Emerald Isle.

One of the things that happened in Emerald Isle was on July 4th of 2011. Judy and Molly had come down for a short visit and Judy wanted to see the fireworks which were being launched from the Emerald Island Pier. The three of us went down to the beach and it was packed with people. I don’t do crowds well, I still get panicky in crowds. I also don’t do explosions well. It wasn’t the main show that got me it was the fact that everyone and their brother’s cousin’ father-in-laws next door neighbor’s roommate were there and were shooting off industrial grade fireworks right on top of me. I was melting down and flashing back to Iraq, Molly sensed that I was not doing well and moved close to me. Then to defend me she looked up and started barking at the fireworks. She was unfazed by the explosions and was determined to protect me. I love her to this day for helping to save my life.

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Visit to the Pet Store: Can I Have one Daddy? 

When Molly came to North Carolina she really came into her own. She almost bagged a few deer, including one which was sleeping just off my porch.Thankfully I was able to stop Molly’s attack with a big tug on the retractable leash with Molly just inches from taking a bite out of the left flank of the unsuspecting deer. I would have hated to explain to the local Department of Fish and Game officials how a 15 pound dog had taken a bite out of a deer.

Molly went everywhere with me and loved the rides in the car. She also loved the visits to the pet store which we call the “cookie store” and the walks on the beach. Just before I returned to Virginia in 2013 Molly went blind, just before this she had caught a butterfly in mid-air. She held onto it for five minutes before releasing it unharmed, except for the PTSD that the poor insect must have had.

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As I have already mentioned Molly, loved to do things with me, and one thing she really enjoyed were the long rides between Virginia Beach and Emerald Isle. On those rides we would stop to get something to eat, usually going through various drive thru restaurants where I would get her what I called a “Molly Burger” a plain hamburger that she would scarf down. Of course she tended to get a Molly Burger any time we went out when I lived in North Carolina.

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So Much to Choose From…

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Turn left at the drive through

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Keep the Window Down…

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Daddy and his Girl, Molly always was interested in the computer

Molly was also responsible for us having Papillons. We came to love Molly’s cheery, happy and funny Papillon side. Now Molly did have a Dachshund side of her personality as well, but she operated as either one or the other, so we never knew if we were going to get the “happy Pappy” of the serious Dachshund. But Molly’s Papillon side caused me to get Judy a Papillon just about a month after Molly a abandoned Judy to move to North Carolina with me. This Papillon is Minnie, or her full name “Minnie Scule.” In February we got Minnie a pappy-puppy named Izzy, or “Izzy Bella.” They are a joy. They are not Molly and they, even though both are full blooded Papillons have wildly different personalities. They are now best buddies and partners in crime.

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Minnie and Izzy 

Molly also shares some of the responsibility of bringing Frieda back into our lives. The vet that I took Molly to in North Carolina was the same one that Frieda and Greta went to, as well as the first that Molly went to. In 2012 Molly had to have a painful but benign tumor removed from her shoulder. When she came back from the surgery I felt a strange presence in the apartment and began to see Frieda sized shadow figures. Judy noticed them too in her visits and when Molly and I returned for good Frieda came with us. Both of us occasionally feel her presence and see her shadow.

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The Wind on the Beach

“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” Martin Luther

Anyway, as I mentioned Molly went blind just before returning from North Carolina. The blindness was very quick to develop, and according to the veterinary eye-speciallist was congenital. However, that did not stop Molly, she adapted and overcame. To prevent injury to her eyes we got her a clear visor which covered her head and eyes but still allowed her to function almost normally. She would use it like a blind person uses their cane to figure out where she was, and if needed as a weapon to get our attention. If we had to move furniture around, she figured out what was moved and proudly let us know what she knew. 

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Molly at Age Seven, Not long after surviving a serious Spinal Infection

About a year ago she was diagnosed with the beginning stage of renal failure. She continued to do relatively well until a few months ago when she began to shed a lot of weight. Even so until a couple of weeks ago she still got around fine and gave us little cause for concern. She took a serious turn for the worse last week. On Thursday she stopped eating as she was occasionally throwing up and had developed a bloody diarrhea but Saturday. Judy and I knew that she was in pain and suffering and while I was at Gettysburg we decided that today would have to be the day. I got home from Gettysburg last night and we loved on Molly. Since she would eat nothing else we got her some hot and fresh Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, which she ate joyfully.

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Molly Giving Orders

This morning we made arrangements to take her in. Minnie and Izzy both gave Molly gentle kisses and nuzzled her before we left. I am sure that they knew that Molly wasn’t coming back. The look of concern on Minnie’s face was heart-warming. Judy drove as I cradled Molly in my arms. With the exception of her time in North Carolina this vet, Dr Robin Knoppf of Abbey Animal Hospital has been her vet. Many of his staff have known Molly for years and a number were with us, one a tech named Sean were with us shedding tears for the Amazing Molly Fur.

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Happy Trails Molly…Until We Meet Again

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Just before eleven A.M. Dr Knoppf gave Molly the injection which helped Molly into the next phase of her journey. Judy and I were holding her and Dr. Knoppf had a hand on her as he listened to her final heartbeats. Molly died surrounded by people who loved her.

It was sad, but it was also reassuring for as we looked at her we could see that she was not longer in pain and was at finally at peace. Some believe that what we see in this live is final, but I am not so sure.

I fully expect that we will see Molly again. That being said I have been crying more that I have for any reason since I can remember. Judy has been too, and thankfully the Pappies, Minnie and Izzy have been wonderful.

Thank you for allowing me to share this, and remember to love your furry babies.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“You Don’t Want to Be That Sick” Pastors Who Ignore

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Back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital I was astounded to hear my pastor make a comment which I think was one of the most heartless that I have ever heard said from a pulpit.  The church was a large and trendy Evangelical-Charismatic Church which I had attended throughout seminary and had ordained my in October 1991.  The Pastor was recounting an incident where one of our members had been critically ill in hospital and had not been visited by him.  After the parishioner was released from hospital he asked the pastor: “How sick do I have to be for you to visit me in the hospital?”  The pastor told us his response: “Sir, you don’t want to be that sick.”

The congregation laughed at the pastor’s story and he went on to talk about how he and other senior pastors should not be doing that kind of work because it “distracted them from bigger Kingdom tasks.”  You see according to the pastor the care of sick parishioners did not contribute to the “growth” of the church and thus was a “distraction and better left to others.”

The comment struck a raw nerve now that I was dealing with the suffering and death every day of people who had been abandoned by the churches and pastors.  I lost all respect for him as a man and pastor during that sermon.  My philosophy of religion professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin said: “You have not done Christian theology until you have dealt with suffering and death.”

Unfortunately my old pastor, and many more like had stopped doing Christian theology in order to be an “Apostle” and CEO.  He was “growing” the church and managing programs, but had for the most part stopped caring as in being a pastoral care giver.

Now this pastor is not alone and nor is the issue of the lack of care confined to Evangelical or Charismatic churches. The trend has has found its way across the denominational spectrum.  Sometimes this is by design as is the case of the Mega-churches.

Pastors of mega-churches are for all practical purposes CEOs of large organizations and have a multiplicity of specialized staff, but often which do little for pastoral care. Having attended a number of these churches, and worked for a prominent television evangelist I can sadly report seeing this first hand many times.

Sometimes this problem it is by default in cases such as the Roman Catholic Church.  In that church the ever worsening shortage of Priests is forcing the closure of smaller parishes and the increase of large parishes with a corresponding decrease in what Priests can do for their people.   Even very good Priests cannot keep pace with the demand of both Sacramental needs as well as pastoral care.

No matter if it is by design or default the result is similar.  The least, the lost and the lonely those “lambs” that Jesus talks about who need care and feeding are shunted aside.  In one case, that of the Catholic Church it is primarily a lack of Priests, Deacons and Sisters to provide this care, although sadly there are Catholic priests who do not see themselves as care givers.

The “by design” issue is more far more troubling as the focus of the church is growth, sustaining numbers, programs and buildings.  This requires that pastors spend their time with members who can supply the vast financial need that those plans require.  I have seen this in numerous congregations across the spectrum, which sometimes as was the case at a church that I attended in Florida results in a financial meltdown and collapse of the congregation, many of whom gave up and went elsewhere when the extent of the scandal became known.  Likewise the ripple effects that this caused in the denomination were like a Tsunami, it was disastrous and the church is still in recovery mode.  Going back to my pastor back when I was in residency I got the feeling that had he been the shepherd in the Parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) that he would have let it go as hunting for it might have distracted him from the others.

When I was in seminary there were quite a number of my fellow students who chafed about having to take courses on pastoral care.  I remember friends and fellow students complaining that what they needed were more “practical courses” such as “church growth, evangelism and Sunday School program management.”  Courses dealing with Pastoral Care were seen as a bother and distraction.  Not to mention academic courses such as Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Church History which offer timeless lessons for pastors.  One friend talked about his Master of Divinity only having a “shelf-life of 5 years” because what he learned would be outdated.

Well in a way he was right.  His focus was on classes that dealt with programs and methods of church growth, programs and management.   From that perspective his degree would rapidly be obsolescent as soon as the next trend in church growth came along and everyone jettisoned the last method in favor of the new.

With the ubiquity of the Mega-church which unlike the Leisure Suit is not going away anytime soon.  The rise of the “Superstar” Pastors such as Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and the proliferation of massive “Ministry Media” conglomerates and stand-alone television ministries are actually dangerous to the vitality and health of the Christian Church in the United States.  They propagate methods which have the sole intent of getting people into church or giving to a ministry and keeping them there, doctrine, worship, sacraments or ordinances, and pastoral care of the least, lost and lonely be damned.  The methods are pragmatic and impersonal.   Numbers and crowds define expertise, credibility and worth. The bigger the church the better the church, it’s that simple.

Unlike others who pick these ministers apart for their theology or business practices my problem with what is happening is what happens to regular people in these large and often very impersonal churches.  It is easy for people to get lost, forgotten and when they are going through difficulty abandoned when the church stops making a conscious effort to do real pastoral care and focus purely on the programs which lend to growth.  Often the substitute for pastoral care is found in the home cell group, or care group or whatever cute name a church can pin on a meeting at a member’s house.

The home groups or cell groups have a noble intention.  They attempt to build community in an otherwise very impersonal organization.  There are some really good things that can come out of healthy home groups as well as long lasting friendships.  We have a couple from our time in San Antonio that is still a very real part of our lives, they showed us genuine love and care and we remain friends.  Of course this couple had an advantage over most home group leaders; he was a clinical social worker by trade who was heading off to seminary.

Most home groups are not that fortunate.  There are unhealthy groups which are led by people who are poorly trained and equipped to deal with broken people.  The good group leaders recognize their limitations and try to get help for those who are really hurting.  Others who do not know their limitations end up abusing these dear lambs of God. Often this is because sick, depressed or lonely people take too much time, are too needy, or that their problems don’t match up with their church theology.

My wife and I know this from personal experience as my wife suffered from a number of ailments throughout seminary and we were going through tremendous health and financial difficulties and in some places we felt cast aside and like we did not matter.  We were fortunate that some people did care and we did make it through, however it was not something that I would ever want to repeat.  I have heard similar stories from hundreds of people that I have come across in my life and work over the years.

I don’t care what you call it, but any church which has multiple services of several thousand or a major service of close to 20,000 as occurs at Osteen’s Lakewood Church is no longer focused on caring for people but sustaining their growth and market share.

I remember reading Charisma Magazine back in the mid-1990s when I still read it regularly about a church in North Dallas that has a period of incredible church growth in which it grew from 1,200 members to well over 7,000.  In the article the pastor touted the church programs which drew people to the church.  What the dirty little secret which was not mentioned was that two exits south of this church a Mega-church of some 10,000 members imploded when the Pastor, one Bob Tilton got caught doing some pretty bad stuff.  This church despite its claims of great programs simple picked up about 6,000 of these people because they were close by and a similar type of church.

All of this is dangerous as to its impact on people.  One only has to look at the latest Barna Polls about what is going on in churches to see that these large churches are alienating people even as they grow.  People come, but others either burn out trying to keep pace with the manic pace of programs proliferated by these churches or they get lost in the crowd and forgotten.  I meet a least a person every day who is a displaced Christian, often hurt, lonely and broken, not only by what they have experienced in life, but by the cold emptiness that they feel when a church surrounded by thousands of people who don’t even know their name.

Some churches do recognize that people have issues that need to be addressed and have in-house Christian counseling programs or refer members to Christian counseling services.   I think that there certainly is a place for clinically trained therapists in the life of a church; however this is not really pastoral care, even when they use “Biblical” methods.   In a sense it is the outsourcing by pastors of one of the most vital missions entrusted to a church, the pastoral care of the flock of God to others, in a sense, “hirelings.”  Again my issue is not with the therapists or Christian counselors, but rather pastors who refuse to do pastoral care as part of their ministry.

Ultimately it is people that are important, even those who are not rich, powerful and who have problems that don’t fit nicely into theological boxes or paradigms promoted by church growth experts. It is high time that churches start reclaiming one of the most vital missions given by Jesus to his Disciples, to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.
The onus for this falls on pastors who cannot simply outsource one of their primary missions as given by Jesus himself to others.  If pastors do not set the example of being caring pastoral care givers, it will not matter that they are supposedly “empowering” laypeople to do ministry.  Instead it sends another more ominous message, that if it is not important for the pastor, why should it be important to me?

Every member of the church at some time goes through a crisis when their faith, family, health or vocation.  Sometimes these are not isolated events but rather prolonged periods of anguish, as what Saint John of the Cross described as “the Dark Night of the Soul” where it seems that God has even abandoned the person.  Unfortunately people in this situation are often abandoned by their church as things fail to improve.  Despairing they become the lost sheep whose shepherd has abandoned.  This is the hardest time for pastoral care, the times where we as pastors are called to stand with someone as Mary the Mother of Jesus did at the Cross, just simply being there though nothing else can be done.

Now do I understand that the demands of running a large church can be sometimes become such that pastors have difficulty making time for pastoral care?

Of course I understand this, at the same time pastors, even those who function primarily as pastor-teacher/CEOs still have the responsibility of caring for people, not simply administering programs and preaching.  Pastors need to set the example of care for people, real people, the regular people who populate their pews, by their books and give to their ministry, even if it is only in small ways, not just the super-givers or the wealthy and powerful.

James’s “right strawy epistle” (Martin Luther’s words) has much to say about favoring the rich and powerful and neglecting the poor and seemingly insignificant people hanging about the peanut galleries of their large “Worship Centers.”  Even if the pastor has limited time he or she must be about the flock, or they will forget what the needs of the flock really are and instead of the People of God, the lambs who Jesus says to care for they will simply be the consumers of a religious message who we have to keep coming back to keep the operation going.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, ministry, Pastoral Care, Religion