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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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The Art of Balance, Baseball and living as a Passionate Moderate

I subscribe to the philosophy that balance is essential in life.  This is probably because my kindergarten teacher took the pencil from my lf and made me write with my right hand which I believe made me amphibious.  I think that is one reason that God speaks to me through baseball.  It’s kind of like those mythical Chinese kids, Yin and Yang, who as I understand whose properties were fused by the Deity Herself into the perfect form of a baseball several millennia ago becoming the symbol of perfect balance in the world.  In baseball there is a certain balance and symmetry that transcends sports played on rectangular fields.    Baseball is the one team sport where no fat lady gets to sing before the last out, unless of course she is singing God Bless America during the 7th Inning Stretch. Time in baseball is measured in multiples of three: Three Strikes to an out, three outs in an inning, and nine innings of three outs each.  Likewise there are 90 feet between each base and 60 feet six inches between the pitcher’s rubber and home plate, again, multiples of three. There are 108 stitches in a baseball, again a multiple of three. Since we in the Christian Church understand God as a Trinity in Unity, One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is apparent to me that baseball, being a game made up of “threes” is something that flows from God to us.  As George Will once said “Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals.”

This is why I am a moderate which to me an integral part of balance.  Moderation to the chagrin of many actually takes work, hard work.  Moderates are often mischaracterized, maligned or derided by people who don’t understand the difference between a principled moderate and waffling follower.  I don’t believe that lazy and unimaginative people who can’t make up their minds about which cola is better, much less examine a serious issue can be truly described as moderates.  They may be wishy-washy but they are not true moderates.  People who take a position so strongly that they can only see their particular view as the only way, be it political, social or religious often cannot understand a true moderate and because moderates don’t fit in their dualistic world view have to malign them.  Unfortunately moderates tend to have big targets on them which draw the fire of extremists on any side of an issue.  Moderates are often compared the Biblical church of Laodicea which the Lord says he will spew out of his mouth like a cheap beer.  I once heard a fiery preacher in Texas say that the only thing defining a moderate was “the tire track down his back as he was run over by people who really believed in something.”  Rush Limbaugh and others on the right treat moderates like traitors, and Limbaugh’s left wing counterparts pretty much see moderates in the same way.  It is much like the way conservative Catholics and Protestant Fundamentalists view the via media or middle way of Anglicanism.  Moderation does not go over well with people who live in a dualistic, black and white world.  Moderation is like baseball where there is no replay for a called third strike, where umpires can make a bad call and where decisions can go either way.  Football and other sports which depend on replays when a call is controversial seek to evade a key part of the human condition, they have removed as much as possible the judgment call and the gray area and unwittingly played into the dualism.

My understanding of being a moderate however is far from being wishy-washy spit coming from the mouth of God….oops, splurt.  I believe that real moderates seek truth, and far from being wishy-washy or milquetoasty are pretty tenacious, diplomatic and able to see the finer points of argument and debate.  Moderates occupy the crucial center ground on which the safety and stability of nations, governemnts and churches depend. As such true moderates must be principled and passionate in both seeking and defending truth.  They also must be willing to defend themselves from both the left and the right.  This is not simply pragmatism, though moderates tend to be pragmatic, it is necessity.  Likewise true moderates are passionate about life and truth, there is no waffling, as a moderate though moderates know that thye don’t have all the answers, and that somethimes there are no answers.  Thus for me I am according to my website title a “passionate moderate.”  This is far from being an oxymoron, or for that matter any kind of moron.  Being a passionate moderate entails holding a tension between opposing points of view, its the synergy of old Yin and Yang.   Passionate moderates have to be able to engage anyone in meaningful dialogue from both the right and the left. Passionate moderates also must be able to confront individuals or groups which have moved to extremist positions that are ultimately detrimental to them and others.  Being a moderate does not mean being a wimp, milquetoast or wishy-washy.  It means having the courage of conviction to pursue truth and do what is right even if it deviates from a political, religious or ideological point s of view which believes it to be the only correct reflection of what is good right and holy in the world.

Thus there is a wide gap between real moderates and lazy people who can’t make a decision to fart towards their left or right buttocks much less to take a position that may be contrary to those comfortably and immutably ensconced in their ideological, religious or political beliefs. Passionate moderates are the center which must hold in order for a pluralistic and multicultural society to survive political, military or economic crisis; natural disaster or other catastrophes such as the Leisure Suits, Disco, Chevy Chevettes, Ford Pintos, the Purpose Driven Church, artificial turf and multi-purpose stadiums which house baseball teams.

Moderation, like baseball takes both patience and balance and is not for the faint of heart.  Being a moderate means that you assume, like baseball that every pitch is a new game.  With each pitch there is a different situation with numerous, if not infinite possibilities.  A true moderate looks to the future and uses the past as a guide, not a place to remain.  Christian moderation involves holding to the truth of the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Faith and to Reason as a basis of moving forward in the grace, mercy and peace of God.  This requires balance, patience and fortitude, because the task is not easy.  It is like those mythical Chinese kids Yin and Yang who were fused into the perfect sphere which became the prototypical baseball; everything in balance.

Peace, Steve+

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Life’s Tough…It’s Tougher When You’re Stupid- The Peril of Misusing Principles, Attributes and Quotations Out of Context

sgt striker

I am cursed with having been born with a logical and analytical mind.  As such it is a cross that I bear.  This may sound pompous and even arrogant but unfortunately it is true.  I am confronted every day with people, some of who that I love and adore who use principles and attributes badly and make themselves look foolish.  Sometimes even bordering on being stupid. Often this involves personal hurts where because of something that was said or done a person makes a quantum leap intol illogical absurdity.  For example, “My boss yelled at me thus my career is over.”  That may or may not be true but it is not a foregone conclusion.  Likewise something like this: “My friend did not call me back, they  must hate me.”   What is worse for hurt people is when they find a quote taken out of context and use it in an illogical manner.  I had a dear friend do this the other day.  I cannot break any confidence but I basically told my friend that if someone was wrong in something they said about my friend that my friend should tell them to go to hell.  I also told my friend that if what the other person was true then that he needed to deal with it and make whatever corrections necessary.

I find that the use of principles and attributes as a lazy way for people to try to look intelligent. A person who uses them in such manner as a way to prove a point neither understand the principles or attributes of what they think that they understand.  If physicians or scientists approached life in that manner we would be in big trouble. Yet we see it all the time in religion, popular philosophy, pop-psychology, popular leadership and management programs.

My friend made a comment on a social networking website regarding assumptions.  It was a bad use of a bad quote, probably taken out of context, unless the person quoted was an idiot, which after reading stuff about him I believe that he is.  The quote was by Don Miguel Ruiz and said: “The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth”   There is a big problem with this.  Good Old Don Mike is an idiot.  Assumptions are how logical people begin the process of discovery through inductive and deductive reasoning.  The problem with Don Mike is that he assumes that people who assume use assumptions in ignorance.  You see Don Miguel is a “spiritual” teacher, and as a spiritual man of course he operates above logic. He lives in the world of unreality and illogic, however it looks like he makes good money doing it.  Guys like this are actually dangerous because they say things that sound neat, but are absolutely idiotic.  Now can we make bad assumptions about ourselves or others? Definitely.  Crap I do it all the time, however that does not lessen the value of making and acting on assumptions.   If the assumption is wrong, you re-assess and move forward.  If someone makes an assumption about you which is wrong you don’t throw out the value of making informed decisions based on evidence and from that evidence making assumptions about how to proceed in the future. This can be in personal, financial, career, spiritual or any other dimension of life.  We all make assumptions about ourselves and others and based on those assumptions live our lives.

Let’s take this quote about assumptions.  Every month that we work we assume that we will get paid.  It is part of the deal. We sign a contract or have a set pay scale and pay days.  In the military we get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month.  I assume that when I read my pay advisement that that money will be in my bank account on the date the advisement says that it will.  I operate on the assumption that I will be paid.  If I am unemployed and have run out of unemployment benefits this may not be so.  I should make the assumption that unless I get a job that I will not be able to buy my dog Milk Bones.  True, Molly would not be happy about this but I would be a fool to assume that I will have money.  This may happen. I may get a job or someone may help me out but I do not assume this to be the case.

One of the worst ways I see this is with religious people.  Some of my fellow Christians for whatever reason believe that somehow God owes them.  This of course comes from the “name it claim it, grab it stab it, God owes me because” heresy of the prosperity preachers.  Unfortunately this crass, insipid and idiotic “theology” is not based on the assumption that God cares about them.  It is however the presumption that because I did something that God is contractually bound to do it.  It assumes wrongly that the Bible, believe a particular doctrine, give my money to the church or a ministry, or pray a certain way that God is obligated to do things the way that I want.   This is an error of presumption as well as a theological heresy.  It “cherry picks” scripture, something called “proof texting.”  This is simply lifting the part of scripture that we like from its historical, cultural and theological context and arbitrarily determine that it means what we want it to mean. God loves us and cares for us but does not owe anyone anything.  The Deity Herself assures me of this.  The way I see it is that God is no respecter of persons, even me.  Thus, I cannot presume on God.

Moving back to the topic of the misuse of principles and attributes by those who presume to be intelligent or spiritual:  Principles and attributes have to be understood in context in order to be used correctly. Context includes the meaning of the writer or the person quoted. The context matters if we are to correctly interpret principles of life made by any individual.  The Enlightenment Philosophers and Theologians called is the “situation in life, or Sitz im Leben. Things do not occur in a vacuum and how people arrive at their conclusions is as much a part of their environment and experience as the end product.

We see this in a number of ways.  I love reading amateur historians, political or military pundits do this with the great military thinkers. I particularly get a kick out of people who quote Sun Tzu or Clausewitz out of context to make some point.  I see this often.  You can go to any bookstore and pick up a book of quotes or principles derived from some philosopher, theologian, military, business or political leader.  They are usually entitled something like this: The Leadership Principles of __________. On occasion you might find a book of quotes, again usually out of context called ____________ Rules for Success in Life. Abe Lincoln and Winston Churchill are two of the most quoted in this manner. People love to do this with quotes of Jesus taken from the Gospels, of course who would argue with God incarnate.  The problem is that the quotes are usually taken out of context and not congruent with the basics of the Christian faith.  Even Scripture is abused in this manner.  This is not assumption, it is presumption.

I remember a book entitled The Attributes of God which I read back in college.  The problem with the book, from a Christian perspective, and the author was a Christian; was not that it’s assumptions about certain characteristics or attributes of God was wrong, it was the fact that God was approached through attributes rather than from the Cross.  One does not know God simply through studying his attributes.  If you are a Christian you know God through Christ who you know through the Cross, not just sayings of Jesus taken out of context.  A person is not the sum of their attributes.

The same is true with those who quote various philosophers, theologians, political or military leaders out of context.  People love to do this with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz.  I have lost count of the books I have seen published in recent years that do this.  To understand Clausewitz one has to understand the Enlightenment, Classic German Liberalism including the Philosophy of Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard as well as the theology of theologians such as Scheilermacher.  Clausewitz properly understood is more than a political-military philosopher but a man who understands the human condition.  To reduce his work to cool quotes is to miss the point.  Since most people can’t spell or correctly pronounce “Scheilermacher” I am sure that they have not read him.  Same is true with Kant, Hegel and Kiekegaard. Without understanding this or Prussia’s defeat and and occupation by Napoleon’s Army and the subsequent recovery, one does not understand Clausewitz.  Clausewitz deals with the human condition as amuch as he deals with political and military philosophy.

Now of course I chose the historical, military and religious examples because that is my academic background.   However, to do this one uses all the facts that one has, analyzes them, evaluates them and uses deductive reasoning to determine the “truth” based on the facts on hand.  However we have to understand that we never have all the facts, and that even “facts” that we have might not withstand the test of time or further examination.  This is true in history and the sciences.   It also has some basis in faith, which is why I prefer the historic Anglican-Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason versus a Scripture alone or Scripture and Tradition basis for faith.  Will I always be right? No, but I will use my errors to discover truth and not be content to remain in them.  To plan we make assumptions about the future.  Those assumptions must be tested as the situation develops.  In Medicine physicians when diagnosing a condition make a differential diagnosis.  It is a manner of testing our assumptions based on the facts on hand.  The military uses a planning process in which assumptions are tested.  Assumptions based on the evidence that we have are essential to planning for the future.  Again this goes for personal matters as well.  To quote MCDP-5 Planning, the Marine Corps Planning Process:

the defining features of the planning challenge are uncertainty and time. More than anything else, considerations of time and uncertainty dictate our approach to planning. All planning is based on imperfect knowledge and involves assumptions about the future. All planning by definition is future-oriented, and the future by nature is uncertain. No matter how determined we are to be fully prepared for a situation, there are finite limits to our ability to plan for the future. The more certain the future is, the easier it is to plan.”

This is not easy, but making assumptions and planning for an uncertain future is far better than quoting people out of context to make it look like we have things figured out when we have never seriously studied them.  As Sergeant Striker (John Wayne) said in the Sands of Iwo Jima: “Life’s tough, it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”   Living life based on unstudied principles and attempting to determine the nature of someone by their attributes is not logical or rational.  We have to be careful.  This may not seem to be too spiritual but as Jesus said “Be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  Or as a Trekkie might say: Be as crafty as a Romulan but peaceful as a Vulcan.

Peace,

Steve+

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