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Faith, Hope and Identity a Mid-Lent Meditation

“If it is hope that maintains and upholds faith and keeps it moving on, if it is hope that draws the believer into the life of love, then it will also be hope that is the mobilizing and driving force of faith’s thinking, of its knowledge of, and reflections on, human nature, history and society. Faith hopes in order to know what it believes. Hence all its knowledge will be an anticipatory, fragmentary knowledge forming a prelude to the promised future, and as such is committed to hope.” Jürgen Moltmann- Theology of Hope

When someone goes through a spiritual crisis or loss of faith it is a chilling time.  Even when you are trying to believe there is always a time that you really take stock of exactly what you believe and why.  Without regurgitating the crisis in my life and faith that came after my return from Iraq and near physical, emotional and spiritual collapse that came with my PTSD I wanted to just take a few paragraphs to meditate on the grace, mercy and love of God that is a central theme of the Gospel.

I have talked about the miracle that embraced me during the season of Advent and Christmas.  I call it my “Christmas miracle” because the year prior I had spent Christmas Eve walking in the dark and cold wondering if God even existed even as most of the Christian world was celebrating the Incarnation of Christ the Lord.  Since that time my faith has continued to be renewed and restored and with the exception of battling Adolf Von Grosse Schmertzen my very painful and very big Kidney Stone have come to feel like my old self for the first time since Iraq.

As I have entered Lent it has been a time of renewal.  Part of that renewal has been being able to believe again and as the Psalmist says, “be still and know that I am God.” This has been a refreshing time as I have continued to experience God’s grace as well as grown in my faith which is founded on the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  That actually has helped me as I have experienced some measure of healing and recovery from what I experienced.

My time in Iraq was meaningful and I loved my Marines, Soldiers and other advisers as well as our Iraqi allies.  When I came back I felt alone and a lot of that came as my church had endured a series of scandals and splits and even before Iraq I had been thrashed by some of the people at the center of the storm who have all since left the church for other places that they can afflict.  Coming home to that was disillusioning, as isolation that I felt from many in the chaplain community.  I have found that my experience is not uncommon and that others have had similar experiences upon their return from Iraq.

For me this meant a period of almost two years where it seemed that God himself had disappeared from my life.  I struggled to even pray.  That is no longer the case, I seem to be on the rebound and God is real again.  So things have changed, I think that my faith has matured in some ways, I don’t need to go argue points of doctrine that saints, theologians and philosophers much smarter than me have legitimate disagreements about for centuries.  Nor do I need to push my views on people in my church or anywhere else as if I had the latest and last word from the Almighty.  I used to seek approval and want to have input on denominational theological or liturgical committees and I would write in the hope that my “brilliance” would be recognized and that my opinion would be sought after. When I write something now it is because I believe it and to stimulate interest and discussion and occasionally to answer or critique those who use faith as a weapon to bludgeon or intimidate those that they are against.  I do not expect to change anyone’s mind and since I have no position where I can enforce my beliefs on anyone else (nor would I want to thank you) my thoughts are simply that.  I hope that they edify and encourage and if someone has a “wow I could have had a V-8 moment” reading something that I write I’m okay with that.

Hans Kung once said: “Time and again we see leaders and members of religions incite aggression, fanaticism, hate, and xenophobia – even inspire and legitimate violent and bloody conflicts.” I guess to some this will sound “liberal” but I came back different from Iraq and I have seen too many people suffer from those that would use religion as a weapon to control others. In Iraq I had Iraqi officers; including Generals tell me that they did not trust their Islamic clergy Sunni or Shi’a because they by their words and actions had caused so much suffering during the insurgency that followed the US invasion of Iraq.  Unfortunately I am seeing the same kind of attitude that the Iraqi officers describe grow exponentially in this country, especially among the farthest right of the religious right. The use faith and religion to enforce their particular understanding of the Bible on people who are not Christians is troubling and something that our often very secular and not very Christian “Enlightenment” thinker founders understood. Some now declare anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% as enemies not only of them, but of God and often over things that are not even Biblical like economics, gun control, taxes and a host of other conservative political issues. Now there are those on the far left that do the same thing but most do not use the Christian faith as justification for their intolerance of opposing views.  Somehow while I don’t think God sees things that way that the extremes see them I know that the Al Qaida Iraq, the Taliban and other groups think much in the same way.   However, such speech is protected and even if disagree with it would not support attempting to silence those who hold beliefs that I disagree with be they religious or political. Debate, dialogue and even disagreement on issues are important in both the Church and society in order that we don’t become a tyranny of the right or left, religious or secular.

As such my faith has grown in that I have no agenda other than to care for the people that God allows me to have contact with.  I’m certainly not perfect at this and at times my default setting of being an ass can re-emerge but I know that Christ is working in my life again.  I have emerged from what Saint John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”  My faith is in God and in Christ crucified who in the words of St Paul who said “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV) I like what Chrysostom says about this passage: “For had it been His pleasure to require an account of the things we had transgressed in, we should all have perished….” The fact that God has condescended to reach out to his creation in this manner is evidenced also in 1 John 2:1-2 where the Apostle writes: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[the sins of the whole world.” For me this Lent is about reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins in an age where so many are drawing lines in the sand and preparing for war, be it religious, social or ideological.

So anyway, it has become more important to me after having gone to war and seeing its effects on people as well as having looked into the abyss of hopelessness to be an advocate for reconciliation, peace and hope for the future especially in my own country where the anger, division and even hatred between the political and religious right and the political, religious and secular left seems to rise to new heights every day.

My identity is not in a political leader, party or ideology, it is in Christ crucified. My optimism is based on him and the creation that he reconciles unto himself and I cannot give up hope or be silent about God’s love and reconciliation .  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

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

martin-lutherMartin Luther

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

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

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

luther_at_wormsLuther at the Diet of Worms

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

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

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

marburgZwingli and Luther at Marburg

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

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

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

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

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

MARC KNEELING2Profiles in Stupidity Pastor Marc Grizzard

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Yankees BaseballAlex Rodriguez Broke out of His Slump

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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