Tag Archives: psychology

The Heretic: Padre Steve Critiques the Christian Sub-Culture

I guess I am a heretic. It is a hard thing to admit but I will have to join the ranks of heretics tonight as I attempt to pass my yet as unnamed Kidney stone. I have had some interesting suggestions so far and if you have one for the 7mm by 4mm unnamed stone please feel free to suggest it.  Today I say my family practice doctor who put in a Urology consult and told me to come back Thursday morning if there is no change, to go to the ER if things get worse and who sent me home for two more days until the next appointment. I can only say that it is hurting and I do hope that pain and sleep medications will help me sleep tonight since I did not last night.

Since selves are very hard to help I am amazed daily with the latest self help books “baptized” with a smattering of Bible verses which are marketed to the hungry hordes that inhabit our Late Great Planet Earth. At the risk of offending everyone who knows and loves these books and yea verily even patterns their life after them as if they were the Scriptures themselves I have decided to write about this subject.  I have seldom discussed this with anyone outside my wife, the Abby Normal Abbess and a few brother miscreant Priests and un-named heretical co-conspirators.   As heretics who buck the party line we generally keep these conversations among ourselves in order not to offend the brethren and the sisteren. But today I just decided to say the heck with it all and be bold, yet hopefully funny in looking at these phenomena.  Of course the Christian Taliban will pronounce me a heretic worthy of death for venturing to criticize the holy writ contained therein.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s Evangelical Christians of who I once was began to crawl out of the typical Bible thumping, cheap suit and revival meeting evangelist look.  Evangelicals, driven on by early Christian rock groups and artists dared to get contemporary.  At first this was confined to dressing like regular people including hippies and to adopting relatively recent pop, rock or country music styles.  Of course while motives were good and the early pioneers did good work much of it because of a lack of theological and philosophical depth was really pretty shallow.  “Jesus loves me yeh, yeh, yeh, Jesus loves me, yeh, yeh yeh and he loves you too…” and other equally inspired lyrics.  Believe me I know this because I had a lot of the albums of the early artists.  However, they were a light years above and beyond some of the crap that came later as real record labels like MCA swallowed up Christian labels such as Maranatha, Light, Sparrow, Birdwing and Word.  After that even the innocent shallowness of some of the early groups was lost amid the focus on market share, image, ratings and corporate profit.  Of course since Capitalism is of God, or at least as its “Christian” supporters claim notwithstanding the fact that is it simple economic social Darwinism.  At the same time there were some good conservative Christian thinkers of various traditions who advocated a more active engagement with contemporary society including Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus. They were all learned and humble Christian men, unfortunately many who claim to be their successors have neither the training, temperament nor the Christian character of these men.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big issue with Christians finding common ground in anything, including music, the arts or even the sciences.  I just prefer that it retain some sense of theological, philosophical and Biblical integrity when it does so, especially when Christians assume a tacit moral. Spiritual and artistic superiority over “non-believers” in said areas.   Sorry Mr. Christian Taliban if you say the secular pioneers of a field of study are in Hell and you somehow have baptized their methods it is a clear example of assuming a moral, spiritual or intellectual superiority over the benighted unbelievers, heretics and infidels.  Such actions have no integrity, no Christian character or superiority to the people condemned to Hell (i.e. Freud, Jung, Maslow, Jung or Adler.)

Of course this branched out into other areas of life including and especially pop-psychology and self-help. Christian groups who had previously loathed and condemned to Hell or as a minimum darned to Heck anything to do with the disciplines of Psychiatry or Psychology embraced them like a blow up love doll, not content with the real thing but finding something less effective but at least buttressed by a few Bible verses. The fact that insurance will pay for at least part of it if you get a state license is even better. When actual therapy, even Christian counseling or therapy fails there are the latest in Christian Self-Help titles to satiate the soul and make everyone feel better or worse of they don’t measure up to what the Christian Self-Help industry promoters claim.

What really drove this was seeing friends Romans and countrymen flock to these baptized self-help books as if they were the latest editions of the Word of God printed in heaven and distributed by the Archangel Gabriel himself.  Now this may be a bit of an over-reach on my part for literary purposes but I think in some cases it is not far off the mark.  I don’t for a moment presume that everyone who finds meaning and value in these books has crossed this line into obsession but I am amazed with the almost cultic hold that they have over some people and ministries.  I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me as a Priest if I have read….fill in the blank.  Since my theological or inspirational reading usually deals with Church History, Ethics, Christology written by German theologians whose names start with “B” the early Church Fathers and Folks like Martin Luther as well as books by Henri Nouwen or one of the plethora of Father Andrew Greeley “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mysteries that I own, I have to no recourse but to say “NO” as my interests lay elsewhere.  Another line that I might use is that I’ve heard from people that name the book is supposed to be good.  In either case I am being honest.  This being said the next line from the person asking me is “well, you should, you’d really like it” or something similar.  I am always polite as I genuinely hope that they are getting something good out of these works and that the Deity Herself is using them in their lives.  I would after all patently hope that they have not wasted their hard earned money on a bunch of theological tepidness in light of our current economic difficulties.

What gets me in most cases is not the actual content of the books in question which especially in the case of the Purpose Driven Life or the Five Love Languages to be pretty benign, though I have heard some folks really hammer these books and their authors.  My concern is the almost hypnotic grip that these and other “method” promoting books have on their readers.  I have seen places where there are extended classes and seminars that go through the Purpose Driven Life or The Five Love Languages or any one of a number of other books where week after week people drag out their notebooks, Palm Pilots or whatever means of electronic note taking that they have and studiously listen and share about the book in question.  While Bible study is an ingrained feature of Evangelical Protestant life, it seems to me that these books are almost replacing Bible study with the study of what someone says that the Bible teaches.  Now this isn’t new at all as one only has to look at the number of books on the Rapture and Second coming by the multitude of “prophecy experts” to see this.  Again, I say that I find the contents of the Purpose Driven Life and the Five Love Languages to be rather benign, my concern is the importance being given to them which sometimes to me seems to border on cultic.  The list can go on especially in light of the books allegedly written by popular televangelists but certainly written by more literate but equally insipid and theological, philosophical and Biblical ghost writers who hope that their work will sell. After all it is all about the bottom line.  As a mega-church pastor told Chuck Colson when asked why he didn’t tackle difficult subjects “They pay me to fill the church.”

My feeling in regard to the Prayer of Jabez industry is another matter.  This is simply narcissistic prosperity gospel teaching repackaged for a new audience.  This book takes an incredibly minor prayer by an equally minor character (1 Chronicles 4: 9,10) and turns it into a revolutionary means of getting God to bless us.  It has spun off a whole line of targeted versions for every gender and ethnic group as well as kids and even a women’s Study Bible. Likewise it has spun off an array of merchandise apparently modeled on Yogurt’s marketing of Spaceballs merchandise.  The merchandise could be found in the “Jabez Junk” section of your local Christian book, music and novelty shop and included key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist’s conception of Jabez himself. A line of jewelry was introduced in 2002.  I found the whole thing deeply offensive and felt it to be a crass attempt by the author and the publishers to make money off of the flock of God.  I knew of pastors who spent years with their congregations dealing with the Prayer of Jabez. I wonder what they would have accomplished had they actually been teaching their congregations actual Christian doctrine, ethics and responsibility. But what can I say…mediocrity sells when slickly packaged and marketed…beats real study and responsible scholarship every time.  God forbid we actually deal with difficult stuff.  Until then if it sells its swell, but if I want to make money off the flock of God I’ll just do it the old fashioned way and ask for a “love offering.”   Maybe I should post a Pay-Pal link on this site so I can make some money too? After all it is better to receive than give isn’t it?

Fortunately for me and maybe unfortunately for others I have a rather twisted way of looking at life, which some of kindred spirit find amusing and those not find offensive.  I cannot for the life of me get around odd thoughts that occur when I see these books which is nowhere more evident than when I hear the words the Five Love Languages. Unfortunately my mind goes to the movie A Fish Called Wanda where Jamie Lee Curtis (who I have always found to be hot) plays an American in England who is let us say sexually excited by her lovers speaking in foreign languages.  In the case of the movie Kevin Kline speaking faux Italian and John Cleese who speaks Russian.  Thus when my office mate in Iraq was running a series of Five Love Language seminars for Marines and Sailors who were stationed at the base that I operated from I had a hard time keeping a straight face.  The chaplain was a very good guy and eventually I confessed what had been running through my mind and he did have a good sense of humor about it and began to laugh when he recalled the movie.  I guess my five love languages would be German, Dutch, Gaelic, Klingon and Romulan, I’ll have to try them on the Abbess sometime.

Until then I’ll just have to wage a battle in my mind to discover the purpose that drives my life while I navigate the Battlefield of the Mind, extend my tent out to cover the five love languages on this the late great planet Earth as I learn to discipline the Strong Willed Child.

Now let me add something.  I am not opposed to orthodox or even fundamental beliefs so long as they are not used as a weapon against those who don’t agree with them as if we were unbelievers or infidels.  Nor am I opposed to them if they are not used as fodder for someone else’s political agenda. I actually am a moderate and theologically Orthodox Anglo Catholic Christian. My faith is based on a high view of Scripture, Sacred Traditions including the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils and Reason.  Unfortunately most of the mass produced “Christian” crap is neither based on the total witness of Holy Scripture, does not match what faith has been proclaimed since the beginning of the Church and often is befit of reason. Instead it is personal interpretations of proof texted Bible verses cobbled together in isolation from the rest of the Christian faith, tradition and testimony of nearly 2000 years. If someone wants to pick a fight with me on that they can but they are on shaky ground.

God I love how a bunch of good Gordon Biersch beer helps me express my thoughts especially when trying to pass a big Kidney Stone.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

PS. No offense intended even if it was taken. Or is it the other way around?

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Filed under philosophy, Religion

Blowouts…The Days (or years) you want to forget…But Need to Learn From

not a happy camperHow I feel after a blowout

It’s no fun to get blown out in any game or life.  Losing sucks no matter how you try to cushion it by saying, “well we almost won” or “gee if only we had…” or “they got lucky, we should have won.” Blowouts on the other hand leave you little to console yourself with.  You lose and you lose badly.  In baseball this usually means that the other team has shredded your pitching staff and that your defense stinks as fielders make fielding and throwing errors, your pitcher throws wild pitches with men on 3rd and your offense dries up like a West Texas lawn in July.   This happened to the Tides Thursday afternoon as they were ripped by Indianapolis 11-3 and it wasn’t that close.  Starter Andy Mitchell who entered the game at 9-2 gave up 8 runs in 4 innings work.  The Tides hitters didn’t come through after a series of comebacks the previous three games.  This happens in the Major Leagues as well. Back on July 22nd the Athletics beat the Twins 16-1; the 18th the Braves beat the Mets 11-0 and back on the 6th the Phillies beat the Reds 22-1.  Being on the receiving end of such a whacking is painful.  The key is what you do with it.  As teams, organizations and individuals everyone will get beaten up once in a while and it takes character and strength to get back out the next day and give it your best when the temptation is to give in to go through the motions and just hope to make it through.

Blowouts in life can come in many ways, health, finances, work situations and relationships.  Sometimes they are our own doing and the results of our choices.  The times I have had the most problems have often been self inflicted because I couldn’t keep my trap shut when I should have either shut up or found a safe place to vent.  In my years in the military and watching baseball I have seen a lot of this.  Likewise there are people who live on the edge and consistently do things that are known to be illegal or unethical within their organization or sport and eventually get caught.  Unfortunately these are not usually the untalented and unmotivated people whose contribution to their team or work environment is to suck up band width and perfectly good oxygen that others could be using to better effect.  The sad thing is that those who push the envelope are often the most talented who have natural ability as well as well as an almost pathological need to be the best.  One only has to take a look at Pete Rose who though his “sins” were not on the playing field, was things that no Manager should ever do.  His attitude about getting caught was an arrogant display of idiocy which disrespected the game that he contributed so much to and soiled his name and reputation.  I hope that he will find redemption in baseball, but the onus is on him to make things right.   Likewise with the myriad of players from the steroid era whose names and reputations are ruined by playing this kind of game.  I am fortunate in that my outbursts did not cost me my career.  There are some I am sure that think little of me because of some of the things I have blown up about over the years and if I could do them over I would do them differently.  But I can’t go back and change them now; they are a part of the tangled tapestry of my life just above the Mendoza Line.

Tuesday night I had the overnight duty and because we were short staffed due to injuries and people being out the duty pager went off incessantly throughout the day.  It was like a day at Parkland without every call being a code, death or trauma.  By noon I felt like a pitcher who was having every batter get a hit, every time I turned around I was rushing off somewhere else.  It is funny when you have a feeling about how a day is going to go.  By noon I knew that this day would be long and painful, just like a game where the opposition scores early and often.  By early evening I was tired, but the hits kept coming and by now almost all were cases out of my comfort zone.

I am by nature a Critical Care, Trauma and Emergency Medicine type of Chaplain.  I am just wired that way.  I will never be a shrink.  I have people all the time ask me or even suggest to me that I get a degree in Counseling or even a Doctorate in Psychology.  Now I do think that I would be a good diagnostician, but I couldn’t handle what my friends who are shrinks have to deal with on a daily basis, give me carnage and traumatic tragedy any day of the week, but not persistent pitter-patter of psychological problems.

Now by shrinks I mean Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Therapists, Clinical Social Workers and Psychiatric Nurses.  I use the term “Shrink” loosely but with great respect and I do not hesitate to consult with them or refer people to them.  I don’t know how they live in that world.  The maelstrom of mentally mangled humanity that my friends deal with on a daily basis would have me in a rubber room.  Thus when I see patients on medical floors I always read their chart and history because if I am going to go in and visit a patient I prefer to know that they are Borderline, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenic, Paranoid, Clinically Depressed, delusional, suicidal or spermicidal before they suck me into their hellish helix of hopelessness.   Knowing these things allows me to stay in my lane, offer appropriate support and actually care for them within my limitations because I do actually have a lot of compassion for the mentally ill or those suffering from even temporary emotional problems.  Heck I have PTSD and some amount of anxiety so Elmer the shrink has his work cut out.  How can I not feel some amount of compassion for those who have even worse situations?  Now there are those who may have some of these conditions who are also maniacally manipulative or pathologically putrid who are not only mentally ill but somewhat or even majorly malevolent.  These folks get to me, I have little compassion for people who even if they have issues are simply rotten people who get off on inflicting pain, emotional, spiritual or physical on those around them, to include their shrinks.

Tuesday night my blowout continued as person after person presented not only needing to see a shrink but wanting to deal with God and all they got was me.  I was beginning to have some words with the Deity Herself about this but was quickly reminded that she loved them too.  Thus my approach was pastoral, supportive and compassionate working within my limitations to ensure that they got the care that they needed without mucking it up for the ER staff or the shrinks.  So of course I was dealing with delusional Paranoid Schizophrenics and Borderline cases all night long.  By the time I trudged up to the on call room a little after 0400 I was exhausted.  My ICU pals were getting a good laugh at my expense and at least I could see the humor in it all.  The alarm rang far too early and when I made my duty turnover I felt like a starting pitcher who had been run over inning after inning for the entire start.  I hadn’t had a night quite like that since my residency at Parkland.  After the turnover I met with my Department Head for a few minutes and he simply said “Steven, go home.”  Even my normal “I can’t leave I have work to do” way of doing life had to agree.  I knew that I was a spent round.

Coming back after getting run over can be difficult and my next day at work I was rested and had a busy but not terribly stressful day and I was back in my element.  No runs, no hits and no errors and no Paranoid Schizophrenics left on base.

How teams come back is interesting. After the drubbing that the Tides took on Thursday they jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against Indianapolis.  Starter Troy Patton gave up two runs and in the 6th Dennis Safrate came on in relief. Sarfate is down on a rehab assignment for the Orioles and got hit hard by the Indians.  The Indians sent 12 men to the plate and scored 9 runs in the 6th off of Sarfate and Russ Wolfe.   Down 5 runs and looking at another beating the Tides found it within themselves to score 5 runs to tie the game in the bottom of the 7th.  Robby Hammock led off the bottom of the 8th with a double, moved to third on a Carlos Rojas sacrifice bunt and was driven in by a Joey Gathright single for the go ahead and ultimately the winning run.  Josh Perrualt got the win pitching 2.1 innings of scoreless relief retiring 7 of the 8 batters that he faced. Jeff Fiorentino had 2 hits an RBI and score 2 runs, Joey Gathright had three hits and the game winning RBI and Victor Diz had 2 doubles and 3 RBIs to help the Tides to victory.

Coming back takes work, no matter what you do. My life, especially the time in seminary until the time I entered the Navy was like a player or team who had a decade of tough seasons.  When I came in the Navy I was able to turn things around.  For the most part I avoid the things that got me in trouble in those years and I have become a lot more skilled at getting through the bumps that I still face.  Fighting back after my post Iraq PTSD collapse has been difficult but things are getting better and my life is coming back into balance.  Things that were impossible for me to deal with even a few months ago are starting to become manageable.  I am coming back and I think that is the key.  Blowouts are no fun and personally I don’t like them, but I am starting to find the takeaways that I need in order to come back.  Isn’t that the point?

Anyway, tonight the Tides start a 4 game series against the Syracuse Sky Chiefs the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals who have a 55-49 record and are in 2nd place in the International League North. The Tides are now 3 and ½ games out of 1st in the South Division and a game behind Gwinnett for the Wild Card.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion