Tag Archives: st peter’s basilica

American Church Greed: By Their Budgets Ye Shall Know Them

 

mega-business-share

Back on October 31st 1517 a little known Monk and Professor of Theology and Bible at the University of Wittenberg proposed a theological debate regarding a practice called “Indulgences” where preachers from Rome came up to Germany and basically shook down the population for donations to help built the now majestic Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. Promises of spiritual blessings, to include time out of Purgatory for those that donated had an affect on German churches and the local political leaders.

What happened that day in Wittenberg was one of the most monumental events in Christian and Western History. Luther charged church leaders in his 95 Theses:

“Lastly, works of piety and charity are infinitely better than indulgences, and yet they do not preach these with such display or so much zeal; nay, they keep silence about them for the sake of preaching pardons. And yet it is the first and sole duty of all bishops, that the people should learn the Gospel and Christian charity: for Christ nowhere commands that indulgences should be preached. What a dreadful thing it is then, what peril to a bishop, if, while the Gospel is passed over in silence, he permits nothing but the noisy outcry of indulgences to be spread among his people, and bestows more care on these than on the Gospel!”

However, it seems that Christians and especially ministers of all times and traditions often forget the lessons of history.

The church in the United States is at a critical point in history, but for the most part its leaders don’t understand this. The American church is fast losing its credibility due to the arrogance and excess of many church leaders in matters related to personal behavior, financial accountability, and accountability before the law concerning clergy sexual abuse cases. The common view of many inside and outside the church is that American ministers practice a “do as I say, not as I do” lifestyle holding others, especially non-Christians to a higher standard than they practice themselves.

Likewise there is the nearly incestuous relationship between many ministers and those holding political and or economic power in which quite often one cannot tell where the “gospel” ends and the politics begin.  This spans the denominational spectrum.

The practical fallout is stunning: The Barna Group, a highly respected polling organization surveyed people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers. But the vast bulk of conservative American clergy and their devoted followers don’t seem to care, probably because the facts do not fit their narrative.

The point I am making is that many clergy in the United States, especially those in influential pulpits and ministries have forgotten the dangers of “clericalism” and the abuses of clerics who use their office as clergy to gain political, financial and personal power.  Jesus told his disciples that they wanted  to be great in God’s kingdom they had to be servants of all.  Jesus, as well as the apostles, other new Testament writers and the Ante-Nicene Fathers warned about the dangers of seeking wealth, status or position. Of course that changed after Constantine when the church became the Imperial Church, something that despite the attempts of some that it has found a way to do throughout history, our American experience included.

Money is a big part of this, and one way to tell what a church, a denomination or a ministry values is to look at their budgets. As my Church History Professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary said “By their budgets ye shall know them.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Reverend Robert Schuler’s “Crystal Cathedral” megachurch declared bankruptcy in 2012. It was $43 Million dollars in debt and embroiled in an internal power struggle and losing money.  Schuler asked “tithers to double tithe” and those that do not tithe to “start tithing.” He talked about what the church has given to them and why it earned their support.

It was a rather pompous plea from a man who had the ear of Presidents and other political and business leaders. Southern California had been terribly hard hit by the economic downturn and recession of 2007-2011. This affected many parishioners that worshipped at the Cathedral as well as those who watched Schuler’s “Hour of Power” show.

The Chrystal Cathedral tried to live “month to month on $2 Million dollars a month.” It cut back staff, curtailed programs and sold property to try to make ends meet. The efforts failed. The church collapsed and the Church Campus was sold to the local Roman Catholic Diocese. I wonder how many more megachurches built on piles of debt are facing what happened at the Chrystal Cathedral. Of course since their books are well guarded we won’t know until they collapse.

I’m sorry but those that live off of other people’s money should never be presumptuous and assume that  faithful givers should have to bail them out.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Other churches at denominational and local levels have often become embroiled in financial scandals that tarnished the reputation of those churches, their leaders and disillusioned their membership.  The Roman Catholic Church had to deal with a major scandal involving the Vatican Bank in the 1970s and 1980s and Pope Francis has been having to unscrew the latest mess that occurred during Pope Benedict’s watch.

hagee cornerstone

By their budgets ye shall know them: If a ministry spends the bulk of its time and money working as surrogates for a political candidate or party it is highly likely that it has forgotten the basic mission of the Church. I cannot remember anything in the New Testament even remotely suggests we do this nor can a single time in Church history that it turned out well for the church, or for regular people in general.

By their budgets ye shall know them….I worked for a fairly reputable Television ministry while I was a seminary student. The common plea of these types of ministries is that they “are on a mission from God” and need the money.

Most of these ministries not part of any denominational structure and have little oversight.  Most are presumptuous and assume that they entitled to the financial support provided by the often poor people who give them their last dime.

These ministries  do not ask their audience for actual input into their “mission” strategy.  Their leaders make the call, say that is “God’s will” and use shame and guilt to squeeze the money out of their viewers. This happens in churches as well and if someone questions the church or its financial accountability they are accused of “being unfaithful,” “not hearing God,” or being “disobedient to God’s will or to the church.”

Many churches and ministries suffer a terrible lack of accountability and oversight, so be assured these abuses are more widespread than we would want to believe.  In regard to television ministries in particular the amount of money required to keep their programs on the air is beyond exorbitant.

The bulk of the money used by such ministries comes often from those that are barely surviving financially even in “good times.” Often it comes most vulnerable and desperate people. The elderly, the sick, the poor, and the lonely.  Such people are “believing in God for a miracle” and trust that the smiling preacher will help get them their miracle. Such vulnerable people respond to these ministries by obediently shelling out of their meager incomes to ministries in response to persuasive pleas by ministers that should know better.

The motivation, love and obedience of these often wonderful people is exploited by unscrupulous ministers in order to support air programs that have little impact on the world.  However, those funds have a great deal of influence in the political aspirations of these preachers. Money equals influence and influence equals power.

By their budgets ye shall know them….If money was the only thing it would be a manageable problem. But money and power is the root of the problem and problem extends to lifestyles of ministers and other church leaders which are hardly supported by the demands of the Gospel. The shear opulence of the lifestyle of many clergy is not just off-putting but obscene. When times get tough for their churches or ministries these charlatans demand more money from their flocks rather than amending their lives and budgets. If members of flock object they are the ones that are vilified.

In my old church those clergy who could not meet their tithe for whatever reason were told that they were being “disobedient to their vows.” For some of our bishops and clergy vows to the Church were less concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, or even being good Christians, but were narrowed down to if you paid your tithe on time.

I remember one Bishop who left the church to go elsewhere who told the assembled priests in his diocese that the tithe was the “essential test of obedience, and what bound us together.” Families and parishioners were described by another Bishop as “tithing units” and not people. When I was in the Army Reserve and contemplating a mission parish start up I was told by the bishop that in order to be “successful” the church needed at least “x-number of tithing units.” I was offended and decided not to do a  mission as I was recalled to active duty soon after.

In such churches people and families are reduced to an economic resource to keep the ministry afloat and support the lifestyle of the minister. Doctrine or even other forms of public witness are secondary to paying the tithe.

By their budgets ye shall know them…. If churches spend more money on the salaries of their pastors than they do on outreach to the poor or missions something is severely out of order. I am a historian and I know that the Apostles of those Ante-Nicene Fathers who suffered poverty and persecution never advanced such ideas. Even those that advocated a firm hierarchy in regard to matters of faith and doctrine never advocated for policies that benefited them financially. When leaders of a church, get together and dine in luxury on the monies donated by their often impoverished flocks it is denial of the Gospel and lack of respect and care for the people of God.

By their budgets ye shall know them….When church building programs and plant maintenance are extravagant and require massive amounts of money to sustain without demanding more from their parishioners than something is out of kilter.  When chandeliers, or massive high definition video monitors cost more than the mission budget, or benevolence ministry something is wrong.

My Church History professor, Dr. Doyle Young from who I appropriated the “by their budgets ye shall know them” line used to say that “God is going to get us for our stained glass windows when we neglect the poor.”  Now I appreciate good church architecture including stained glass windows. However it is  highly presumptive and arrogant for churches, ministries and ministers to demand monies when they have failed to be good stewards of what they have been entrusted. When ministries unwisely spend the money given them like drunken sailors and then expect others to pick up the tab while they cry crocodile tears about how “God’s plans will be thwarted” if their ministry fails, it is plain and simple fraud.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Back prior to the Protestant Reformation in Europe there was a large amount of discontent which focused on the arrogance, opulence and financial demands of the Catholic Church.  In fact much of Dr. Martin Luther’s protest in the 95 Thesis dealt with the manner in which Church finances.

Back then the Roman Church used a practice called indulgences and the selling of “relics” to fund the construction of St Peters Basilica in Rome.  People gave because they believed men like John Tetzel who preached in regard to indulgences “a penny into the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.”  That is incredibly similar to the collection methods of the big evangelists who prey upon the most vulnerable to fund their ministries. Likewise the Church attempted to use its power to reward or punish rulers of these regions, much as political preachers today attempt to use their influence to push candidates to support their agenda.

However, the chief complaint of many reformers was related to the Churche financial as well as political abuses of its members and nations to buttress its position in Europe.  Unfortunately we have not learned this lesson, American churches are so consumed with power and money that people are fleeing them, much as happened to the Roman church during the Reformation.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Finally there are honest and hard working ministers and churches that emphasize ministry and care for people as part of the Gospel message.  Many eke out support while working full time in “tentmaker” professions in order to fund their missions without unduly burdening those that support them. In my denomination, all of our clergy are “worker priests” including our bishop, who does not take a salary from the church. Likewise, I know many good ministers who give not only their lives but their livelihoods to care for those in their charge. They seek not fame, wealth or power. Some are conservative, others progressive, but they have caring and compassionate hearts and their budgets reflect their priorities.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, ministry, Religion

By Their Budgets Ye Shall Know Them: A Reformation Day Reflection

“Lastly, works of piety and charity are infinitely better than indulgences, and yet they do not preach these with such display or so much zeal; nay, they keep silence about them for the sake of preaching pardons. And yet it is the first and sole duty of all bishops, that the people should learn the Gospel and Christian charity: for Christ nowhere commands that indulgences should be preached. What a dreadful thing it is then, what peril to a bishop, if, while the Gospel is passed over in silence, he permits nothing but the noisy outcry of indulgences to be spread among his people, and bestows more care on these than on the Gospel!” Martin Luther (Introductory Letter To The 95 Theses)

Back on October 31st 1517 a little known Monk and Professor of Theology and Bible at the University of Wittenberg proposed a theological debate regarding a practice called “Indulgences” where preachers from Rome came up to Germany and basically shook down the population for donations to help built the now majestic Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. Promises of spiritual blessings, to include time out of Purgatory for those that donated had an affect on German churches and the local political leaders.

What happened that day in Wittenberg was one of the most monumental events in Christian and Western History.

However, It seems that Christians and especially ministers of all traditions forget the lessons of history.  The church in the United States is at a critical point in history and is fast losing its credibility due to the arrogance and excess of many churches as well as individual clergy in matters related to personal behavior, financial accountability as well as accountability before the law concerning clergy that who have committed grievous crimes against children and others.  Likewise there is the nearly incestuous relationship between many ministers and those holding political and or economic power in which quite often one cannot tell where the “gospel” ends and the politics begin.  This exists in many churches large and small and spans the denominational spectrum not being the sole property of any particular body.  There is also the matter of accountability in which it seems that many churches, ministries and ministers practice a “do as I say, not as I do” lifestyle holding their subordinate clergy as well as parishioners to a higher standard than they practice themselves.

The United States has always had a strong Christian heritage that has impacted its faith as well as its national life.  This is not of itself a bad thing as one looks at how churches and Christian leaders have made an impact that goes beyond them and is beneficial to the nation as a whole.  Some of these achievements include the pressure put on James Madison by Virginia Baptists to ensure a guarantee of religious freedom in the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery the ending of child labor, the Civil Rights movement as well as numerous charitable and public interest oriented ministries to care for society’s most disadvantaged citizens as well as the aliens that have lived among us.  At the same time there were many Christians, churches and ministers that supported slavery, an established state religion, segregation and many other issues.  That being said churches and individual ministers have made a huge contribution to American life and community that cannot be easily dismissed despite the many problems, controversies, and scandals that have surrounded churches of almost all denominations since the founding of the United States.  Religious liberty as well as Christian churches and religion in general has traditionally been seen as a positive rather than a negative aspect of the United States going back to Alexis de Tocqueville in his comments on American democracy.

Clergy have enjoyed a special status in American life that exists in large part due the Bill of Rights and the Jeffersonian understanding of an “eternal wall of separation” between church and state.   This is because clergy were seen as fair arbiters because they were not an appendage of the state as were the clergy of most European states that had established state religion.  Thus the “clericalism” of Europe which was seen as a danger by our Founding Fathers was not a major issue. Yes some of the founders recognized a potential danger but that did not stop Congress from treating clergy and churches favorably in the early years of the republic and worked to ensure that no church became a “State church.”  Over the years since the founding of the United States clergy of many denominations have made many positive contributions to our Nation in both their pastoral and prophetic roles.  At the same time over the years some clergy have attempted to use their status and privileges as an entry into the elite parts of society, especially in the political, government policy and financial realms.

The point to be short is that many clergy in the United States, especially those in influential pulpits and ministries have forgotten the dangers of “clericalism” and the abuses of clerics who use their office as clergy to gain political, financial and personal power.  Jesus told his disciples that they had to be servants and not seek wealth, status or position something that was echoed by the New Testament writers as well as many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

By their budgets ye shall know them….I saw the report of the Reverend Robert Schuler of the “Crystal Cathedral” megachurch which declared bankruptcy last week being $43 Million dollars in debt and embroiled in struggles about Schuler’s successor call for his parishioners to give more money.  He asked “tithers to double tithe” and those that do not tithe to “start tithing.” He talked about what the church has given to them and earned their support. I found this to be a rather pompous plea from a man who has had the ear of Presidents and leaders in the political and business world.  The fact is that Southern California has been terribly hard hit by the economic downturn and recession and that obviously includes many of his parishioners both those that worship at the Cathedral as well as those who what Schuler’s “Hour of Power” show.  The Chrystal Cathedral tried to live “month to month on $2 Million dollars a month” cut back staff, curtailed programs and sold property to try to make ends meet. I’m sorry but when you live off of other people’s money you should never build a ministry requiring millions of dollars on the presumption that if you get it wrong that the faithful givers should have to bail you out.  I saw this at a local level a few years back and it all but destroyed the local church and the denomination that church belonged.  I wonder how many more megachurches built on piles of debt are facing what happened at the Chrystal Cathedral. The Church Campus was sold to the local Roman Catholic Diocese.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Other churches at denominational and local levels have often become embroiled in banking scandals that tarnished the reputation of those churches, their leaders and disillusioned their membership often causing mass defections to other churches or leave the organized church all together.  The Roman Catholic Church had to deal with a major scandal involving the Vatican Bank in the 1970s and 1980s and have recently had other allegations of another potential banking scandal involving the Vatican have surfaced.

By their budgets ye shall know them: If a ministry spends the bulk of its time and money working as surrogates for a political candidate or party it is highly likely that it has forgotten the basic mission of the Church as I can’t remember anything in the New Testament even remotely suggests we do this nor can a single time in Church history that it turned out well for the church, or for regular people in general.

By their budgets ye shall know them….I worked for a fairly reputable Television ministry while I was a seminary student. The common plea of these types of ministries is that they “are on a mission from God” well, maybe that is a Blues Brother’s paraphrase but you get my drift. Most are not part of any denominational structure and have little oversight and presume that since someone might watch them that they are entitled to financial support. They do not ask their audience for actual input into their “mission” strategy, they just ask for their audience’s money to do with as they “and as the Lord would have them to do” with it. This of course is not the sole property of television ministries but it occurs in many churches as well.  If someone questions the church and its financial accountability they are accused of “being unfaithful,” “not hearing God,” or being “disobedient to God’s will or to the church.”  Since many churches and ministries suffer a terrible lack of accountability and oversight these abuses are more widespread than we would want to believe. Sometimes it takes personal experience to see this but when one sees it up close and in person the blinders can be removed. In regard to television ministries in particular the amount of money required to keep their programs on the air is beyond exorbitant. It comes often from those that are barely surviving financially even in “good times” and the most desperate of people “believing in God for a miracle” in response to obediently shelling out of their meager incomes to ministries in response to persuasive pleas by ministers that should know better. The motivation, love and obedience of these often wonderful people is exploited in order to support air programs that have little impact on the world despite the boastings of these ministers that they are “fulfilling the great commission.” One has to ask if this is the case why there is so little to be seen in our society as a result of all the money poured into these pricy ministries.

By their budgets ye shall know them….If money was the only thing it would be a manageable problem…. Oh but wait money and power is the root of the problem as the problem extends to lifestyles of ministers and other church leaders which are hardly supported by the demands of the Gospel. It is not uncommon at all to see clergy living off of the offerings of their parishioners live opulent lifestyles and when times get tough demand more money from their flocks rather than amending their own behaviors.  Instead of accountability, repentance and a change in behavior there is a demand for obedience from their flock and if the flock objects they are the ones that are vilified.  This again cuts across denominational lines and includes Protestants and Catholics, those in parish as well as those in parachurch, television and radio ministries. In my old church those clergy who could not meet their tithe for whatever reason were told that they were being “disobedient to their vows” which instead of vows to the Church in regard to orthodoxy as well as orthopraxy were narrowed down to if you were paying your tithe on time. I remember one Bishop who left the church to go elsewhere told the assembled priests in his diocese that the tithe was the “essential test of obedience, and what bound us together.” Families and parishioners of parishes were described by another Bishop as “tithing units” not people and when I was in the reserves contemplating a mission parish start up was told that in order to be “successful” the church needed at least “x-number of tithing units.” Doctrine or even other forms of public witness were secondary to paying the tithe.  That church had many major financial scandals that are well documented elsewhere so I won’t go into detail about them.

By their budgets ye shall know them…. If churches spend more money on the salaries of their pastors than they do on outreach to the poor or missions something is severely out of order, one cannot imagine the Apostles of those Ante-Nicene Fathers who suffered poverty and persecution advocating for what amounts to be an “Imperial” church even those that advocated a firm hierarchy in regard to faith and belief.  When leaders of a church, especially a small church get together and dine in luxury on the monies donated by their often impoverished flocks it shows a tacit denial of the Gospel and lack of respect or care for the people of God.

By their budgets ye shall know them….When church building programs and plant maintenance are extravagant and require massive amounts of money to sustain without demanding more from their parishioners than something is out of kilter.  When chandeliers cost more than a mission budget for the poor something is wrong.  My Church History professor from who I appropriated the “by their budgets ye shall know them” line used to say that “God is going to get us for our stained glass windows when we neglect the poor.”  I love good church architecture including stained glass windows but it is presumptive on God the people of God for churches, ministries and ministers to demand monies when they have failed to play and manage effective especially when in spite of economic indicators they spend like drunken sailors and expect others to pick up the tab while crying crocodile tears about how “God’s plans will be thwarted” if their ministry fails.

By their budgets ye shall know them….Back prior to the Protestant Reformation in Europe there was a large amount of discontent which focused on the arrogance, opulence and financial demands of the Catholic Church.  In fact much of Dr. Martin Luther’s protest in the 95 Thesis dealt with the manner in which the Church used a practice called indulgences and the selling of “relics” to fund the construction of St Peters Basilica in Rome.  In people gave because they believed men like John Tetzel who preached in regard to indulgences “a penny into the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.”  Of course there was the manner that the Church also used its power to reward or punish rulers which was also part of the problem but the complaint of many reformers was often directly related to the Churches’ financial as well as political abuses of its members and nations to buttress its position in Europe.  Unfortunately I do not think that we have learned this lesson and that Churches and ministries in the United States are losing membership and the trend is that people are opting for individual expressions of faith rather than become a part of institutions that they feel are out of touch with real people.  I believe that if things do not change there will be a mass exodus from many churches and religious institutions because of the odious nature of the financial dealings and pressure put on people to support questionable programs and lavish lifestyles.

By their budgets ye shall know them….There are honest and hard working ministers and churches that emphasize ministry and care for people as part of the Gospel message.  Many are foreign missionaries that eke out support while working full time in “tentmaker” professions in order to fund their missions without unduly burdening those that support them.  I know many people like this and for them whether they be working in foreign missions or caring for the poor at home live the Gospel in word and deed and nothing in this essay should be construed to be against such people or their missions.  I may disagree with someone’s theology but when I see them demonstrate humility and the love of God in all that they do I can only commend them.

You see my friends and readers my experience leads me to believe that people are still searching for authentic faith and spirituality and have not necessarily given up on orthodox Christian beliefs.  The problem is they are finding little of substance in many churches and other religious institutions. Novelist and write Anne Rice recently did this, leaving “Christianity” but not Christ and I fully understand her reasoning for doing so.

 

Martin Luther and the 95 Thesis: What if the Church had listened to him rather than branding him as a heretic and criminal?

Some will say that by writing this that I am “causing division in the Church” or the more pious “causing division in the body of Christ.”  However that is a red herring argument that attempts to divert attention from the real problem. If the Church and I mean across denominations not any particular body fails to reform itself it will fall on its own and fall hard and in the process harm the faith of many people. Churches which have to defend the indefensible to “retain unity” are those that are in schism from Christ, not those that raise issues that the society at large recognizes but church and religious leaders seem incapable of admitting. The Church must reform and a big part of that in the United States involves how we deal with wealth. By their budgets ye shall know them.

This essay will be continued as I move to the next segment which will be about the incestuous relationship between many ministers and those of the political and financial elites.  I’m sure that I will come up with a catch title for that essay but need to ruminate some more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Ball Game with Saint Pete: The confluence of Baseball and Faith

This is a re-written version of an article that I wrote last year and is part of my “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” series.  The original; was written shortly after my dad died last summer. Today I revised it while traveling to a Church clergy and Chaplain conference in Houston. Peace, Padre Steve+

A week after I met Jesus and the team at 7-11 I found out that I was selected to be promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  While still in amazed wonderment about that meeting and what happened on the team’s road trip to Dyersville Iowa to play at the Field of Dreams I was caught up in the excitement of knowing that I was among 20 chaplains selected for promotion for the next fiscal year.  That night I went to worship at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish despite being very tired from three busy overnight duty shifts over the preceding eight days at the hospital that I served at as a Chaplain.

The previous night had gone long as I had to deal with a number of serious situations.  We had young Petty Officer First Class named Kenneth die of cancer. Kenneth was one of those rare people with no guile. While he served in the Navy he was also an outstanding basketball player and played on the All-Navy Basketball team. He died after a struggle with cancer that had ravaged his formerly massive body, that of a basketball power forward until he looked like a concentration Camp victim at the end of the Second World War. The time with this young man and his family was filled with grace as three Chaplains as well as a number of hospital staff that had gotten to know them over the preceding three months gathered at their apartment outside the hospital gate where he had gone home to die.  It was his desire to spend a few days at home with family before dying and one of the last things that he was able to do was watch game seven of the NBA Championship game between the Lakers and the Celtics. The three Chaplains, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal and me a miscreant Old Catholic type all prayed at the bedside and stayed with the family and his body during the holy silence that pervaded the living room.

Later I would spend time with the family of an eighteen month old boy that had drowned and been resuscitated by EMS in down but was certain to die in the next day or two.  Then I did some follow up with a dear lady that was in the end stages of heart and kidney failure in our ICU. I’d known Corrie a sixty-five year old Filipina and her family over the past couple of years as she struggled to live, but today was different. Nothing more could be done. I was with her and the doctors as they discussed her condition and when she calmly let people know that if her heart stopped again not to try to bring her back. We talked and prayed afterward and she had asked if I would come up to help her write down her story.  Well that had not worked out but I did get to her bedside late making the sincerest of apologies and letting her know what had happened. Corrie was also one of those dear saints, a devout Catholic that loved God and her neighbors, she was concerned for the families of the other patients and not so concerned about herself. She had faith and was confident that Jesus would have her in heaven because as she said it was his grace and mercy that had allowed her to know him.  I listened to her, sang with her, prayed with her and chatted for almost an hour and a half before going to check on the parents of the little boy and my Pediatric ICU staff before trundling off to the Duty Chaplain Bunk room for a few hours of fitful sleep.  I thought of the people that I had dealt with during the day and how each in their own way had touched my life and saying a brief prayer I laid my head on the bricklike pillows and body down on the devil’s mattress, or the mattress from Hell fell asleep.

After going home I received the call from Derek our deputy chaplain at the hospital to congratulate me on my selection. I was thrilled and that evening I went to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish to see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was a terribly hot and muggy night but the game was exciting and as is my custom I took a lot of pictures for my website as I try to write about every Tides game, hoping that someday when I grew up that I might be a baseball writer.  I guess that I am one now except no-one is paying me for it but such is life. As I moved about I spent some time with my buddies, Elliott, Chip and Art the Ushers and each time that I moved up or down from the home plate area where I reside down the first base or third base line to get shots from different angles I would visit with them, talking baseball, life and receiving their congratulations on my selection for promotion.  To them I am the irrepressible Padre Steve and we have a wonderful time together at each home game.

That night was like any night at the Church of Baseball until I noticed a burly man in a Yankees hat with a beard and pony tail coming down the stairs toward section 102. He was showing his ticket to Elliott the Usher, also know by some as Elliott the Enforcer he also has charge over section 100, the VIP section shared by scouts, players, families of team members and visiting VIPs.  That section is carefully monitored by the aforementioned “Enforcer” and the man, wearing a faded Yankees Jersey from what appeared to be from the 1930s with the number “3” on the back and a pair of large brown cargo shorts with sandals on his feet walked toward Elliott showing his ticket.

I recognized the man and since I was on the move anyway from the third base side toward first I went up to them.  Having met the man the previous week at 7-11 and knowing that he and the team loved baseball I had wondered of they might make their way back to Hampton Roads.

“Elliott, you gonna let a Yankee fan into section 100?” I smiled as I asked the question. Elliott and Pete both looked over at me, Elliott is about my height but Pete towered over us at a good 6 foot 3 inches outweighing each up us by at least a hundred pounds. Pete smiled.

“Steve from 7-11 right?”  Pete asked as he recognized me with Elliott looking on.

“That’s me” I cheerily answered. I liked Pete, there was something genuinely fun about him a blue collar guy that in addition to going and spreading the Good News also liked to be around regular people and have some fun, after all he had spend his early years as a fisherman and like any sailor was a little rough hewn in his manner.

Elliott looked at us and asked Pete “You know this guy?” to which Pete responded “I sure the heck do, he’s one of our people, you know a baseball fan and Padre to boot.”

“So where do you know each other from?” I asked.

Elliott looked at Pete and Pete looked at me before Elliott answered. “I met Pete up at Fenway back in ’76 when the Red Sox went to the World Series.”

“Yeh, I was in town to see the Yankees play those bums and happened to sit by Elliott, for a Sox fan he’s a pretty good guy and unlike most of those weenies at Fenway he actually understands the game.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding Padre, that’s how we met, just goes to show that if you really love the game even Red Sox and Yankees fans can sit together in peace, right Pete?”

“You know it Elliott, you know it.”

“So Pete where you sitting?”

“Section 100; row C on the end down there behind the radar gun.”

“Cool I’m right across the aisle in section 102 row B to your right, would you like to go down there with me? How’d you get section 100?”

“Dude, the boss has connections, when I asked him if I could go back and visit this ballpark when we were done in Dyersville he called Dave.”

“Dave? You mean Dave Rosenfield?” Dave is the long time General Manager of the Tides and I chat with him whenever I get the chance.

“Heck yeh Padre, the Boss knows all the GMs, talks to them often, even the minor league GMs. He likes to put in his two shekels with them in discussing prospects; you know that the boss keeps a keen eye on these players don’t you?”

“Well, I figured so, like he does the rest of us right?”

“It’s kind of like that but this is something that the Boss has a passion for, he died to save the world and the world does include baseball, does it not?”

“Well, that’s true, but even though I found out last week that the Boss and you guys liked baseball I didn’t know it was this serious.”

“Padre, this is baseball, it is serious and the Boss takes it seriously, even more serious than Selig, the Grand-Poobah of Major League Baseball.”

“He takes the game serious or Selig serious?” I smiled as I said this triggering a smile back as he replied removing his cap and wiping his brow of the sweat that the hot and humid Tidewater weather causes the human body to produce in mass quantities when not inside an air conditioned building, which Harbor Park, open to the elements as a baseball field should be is not. As he put his cap back on he quipped back to me “the game Padre, Selig he just humors, lets him think that he is in charge, there are times that he thinks about resurrecting A. Bartlett Giamatti.” Pete paused for a second looked up at the press box and continued “but whenever he talks about it he says that he doesn’t want the Dispensationalists to think that the Tribulation has started, the boss seems to think that it would not be helpful even if Giamatti would be better for the game than the Grand-Poobah Bud.”

“I guess that that would cause a bit of a stir if he did that can you imagine all the headlines on ESPN, the in depth interviews and of course the talk show circuit Pete?” I continued not giving Pete a chance to answer “It would be freaking amazing, could you see Giamatti being interviewed on Larry King Live and see if Larry asks him if he will lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose? Or even better brings up the Congressional hearings on steroids in Baseball?”

“Yep Padre it would be a spectacle and would cause more problems than it would solve, hell Congress would probably want an investigation of how Giamatti came back from the dead and the liberals and conservatives would have hearings that would drag on endlessly and make themselves the center of attention every time a camera was in the room, thank God that Herod and Pilate didn’t have C-Span or the 24 hour news cycle.”

“And people would pretty much ignore the God thing in the story…” said Elliott.

“Well not really except that the Bosses’ involvement in raising someone like Giamatti from the dead so many years after he passed away, God rest his soul, like anything that the boss does would be used by politicians to advance their agenda and dare I say preachers to further their “ministries” or make money by selling books, audio CDs and DVDs that miss the point entirely.” Pete took off his hat and wiped his brow again “sure is hot and miserable in this place, makes me miss the Med, you know that Israel has pretty good weather, a bit dry and hot in the summer but no humidity.”

“I know, I’m originally from California and we had hot weather in the summer but no humidity.”

“Now California, that’s an interesting place, I love the West Coast road trips and that new stadium that the Giants play in that is great.”

“I like it too, it’s so much nicer than Candlestick.”

“Don’t get me going about Candlestick young man. Went out there once in July to see the Giants play the Mets in a double header….I think that it was in the mid-1970s, so guy named Halicki threw a no-hitter.

I looked a Pete funny. “Halicki’s no hitter?”

“Yeah, you heard of it?”

“Pete, I’ve been a Giants fan since I was a kid and I was there for that game.”

“No kidding?”

“No really dad took my me and my brother, it was cold as hell out there but it was so cool to actually see a no-hitter in person.”

“Ain’t that a hoot. Sure is a small universe partner.”

“That it is Pete that it is.”

“So what do you think of the new ballpark? I love the food there, did you have the garlic fries?”

“Yeh, it was the first place that I ever had them, Gordon Biersch has a stand there.”

“Those sure were good; I think when we got back in the bus for trip down to L.A. the next morning we all still smelled like garlic.”

“So Pete, you want something to eat or drink?” I asked figuring that it was a good chance to see what the big Yankees fan liked.

“Sure Padre, what have they got?”

“They don’t have the garlic fries but they have some pretty good chow, want to go up and look around?” Elliott looked at us and said to Pete “You’re not leaving already are you?”

“Hey Elliott, you know me would I leave a game before it was over?”

“Well you didn’t get here on time.”

“Elliott you know that’s not fair, I drove in from Iowa and that doggone Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel is for the birds, if I was the boss I would have Moses come in, part the waters and lay down another tunnel like with four lanes in each direction.”

“Now that would be nice, do you think that he could do something with the Downtown too?” I asked as Pete and Elliott chuckled.

“Hey, Padre, let’s go up and get something to munch on, I’m hungry.”

“Sure Pete, what would you like?”

“What have they got?”

“Heck Pete about anything, well anything, they even have a real restaurant down in the Right Field corner.”

“So what do you like?”

“I don’t mind a Tides dog with chili and a beer.”

“Tides dog?”

“Yeah, just a grilled hot dog with chili sauce, of course they have the all-beef Jumbo Dog, but it’s a bit heavy for me.”

“So any of this Kosher?”

“Are you kidding, this is a ball Park Pete.”

“True, but one can hope.”

“Besides, Pete didn’t you get the vision from Jesus that all food was cool even if it wasn’t Kosher?”

“I know Padre but you gotta remember my background, I still fall into the old habits sometimes.”

“I know, even after Jesus told you that all things were clean old dour Paul had to correct you when you were hanging out with some Greeks.”

Pete looked down and shook his head once again wiping his brow, “I wish Luke hadn’t put that down in Acts, not really fair to me, but Luke was Paul’s man. Now it’s not like Paul didn’t have his faults too, ran off Barnabas and John Mark on one of his trips, but to his credit Luke put that down too” Pete wiped his brow again and continued “I guess that you could say that he was the first “fair and balanced” reporter.”

“Yeah, church politics and the writing of history huh?”

“You know it even then, but old Paul and I did patch things up when he got to Rome.”

We walked down the concourse to the far concession stand down the third base line where my buddy Gerry from Gordon Biersch works with his volunteer organization.

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hey Steve, how are you doing?” said Gerry who is about the same height and build as Pete.

“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Pete, he’s from out of town.”

“Really, where from?” asked Gerry.

“Oh here and there, right now travel around with my boss doing good stuff and getting in some baseball wherever we go.”

“Cool, so Pete are you a Yankee’s fan? I love the jersey”

“Pretty cool, huh? Babe Ruth’s number”

“Yeah, got it special, so what team do you root for?”

Gerry shook his head and gave a slight chuckle “well I’m a Reds and Indians fan, from Ohio.”

“So the Big Red Machine huh? They have a pretty team this year, lots of young talent and they are willing games in the last inning and the last a bat like something I’ve never seen” replied Pete “and I’ve been around quite a while.” Pete paused took a deep breath and continued. “I think that they have a a real shot at making the playoffs and taking the N.L. Central this year.”

“It’s been too long Pete, I’ve been around quite a while and I haven’t seen them play this well in a while.”

“I think some of the sports reporters and columnists are going to eat Cardinal on this one.” said Pete.

Gerry laughed out loud and blurted out “You mean crow don’t you?”

“Nope, Cardinal, like in St. Louis type.”

“That’s funny, what can I get for you guys?”

“A couple of Tides dogs with chili, right Pete?”

“Can I have a big order of fries too?”

“Sure Pete” replied a very cheerful Gerry since you’re from out of town they’re on me.” Gerry pulled his wallet out and told the cashier that he was getting the fries as I handed over the money for the Tides Dogs.

“Anything to drink Steve?”

“Gerry you know that I don’t drink the beer from this stand.”

“That’s true; we just have the Bud and Bud Lite here, you going across the way to get a Yuengling?”

“Is that good?” asked Pete. Before I could answer Gerry said “a lot better than what I have here.”

“It’s not Gordon Biersch but it’s alright” I replied. “Besides, Budweiser is like the wine that they were serving at Cana until the Boss dropped by.”

“That bad huh?” replied Pete as Gerry chimed in “you’re too much sometimes Steve, you talk to Pete like he was there or something” as I simply chucked, and said “Yeah, something like that.”

A lady brought our hot dogs to us and we went and got our beer from the kiosk opposite Gerry’s stand and we began to walk down to our seats once again greeting Elliott on the way down.

“Hey Padre, these are nice seats, you have to pay through the nose and have connections big time for seats like this at Yankee Stadium and the boss won’t cover that, he thinks it’s a bit extravagant and wouldn’t look good on the organization.”

“So he’s not a big fan of high prices that keep regular folks from getting great seats?”

“No, he’s like to see everyone get a chance to sit behind home plate in a big park like that at least once” as he looked at his ticket and sat down across the aisle from me.

“So Pete, so why do you keep calling me Padre? You can call me Steve.” I said as I took my first drink of my Yuengling Lager. Pete picked up his cup and said “cheers Padre” and lifted the cup to his lips drinking the amber lager. “Not bad, we didn’t have much beer back in the day, Judea and the Mediterranean was more of a wine place. There was some beer back then but it wasn’t that good, it took the Monks working for the organization in Germany to get it right” as he took another drink from the cup and wiped beer from his beard “nice beer, I’ll have to tell the boss about it.” Pete paused for a second and went on “good choice Padre.”

“There you go again you can call me Steve, I don’t mind Padre but if you let me call you Pete and not Pope Pete why don’t you just call me Steve?”

Pete looked and me and smiled. “Padre, that’s what you are, it’s who you are, remember that whole Sacrament of Holy Orders thing?”

I kind of felt silly, I like being called Padre, beats the heck out of “the Reverend” or something like that but still having Saint Peter, the first Pope call me that was kind of humbling especially when he had no objection to being called Pete.  “I know that you’re right Pete, but still, you were like the first Pope you really outrank me.”

“Padre, I never paid any attention to “rank” as you call it when I was Pope. Back then it was not really a career or longevity enhancing job, no palace, no red shoes, even though Ben’s aren’t made by Prada like some people say and none of the big hats and stuff like that. If it was up to me the hats that clergy wear would be more practical, I like baseball hats, Matthew kind of likes a Fedora and a couple of the other guys like hats like that Indiana Jones character when the are not travelling as part of the team.”

“Really?” I asked quizzically.

“Oh yeah, back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of vestments and heck I wasn’t in charge of very much, a few priests and deacons and “parishes” if you could call them that pretty much house churches or places in the catacombs where we could celebrate a simple Eucharist and hope that the Roman police wouldn’t show up.  Heck we didn’t even cause anyone any trouble, just no one liked us. Romans called us “atheists” if you can believe that and guys that used to be friends in Judea had no problem turning us over to them whenever they could. Nope, being the Pope was not what it is now, no Popemobile or anything.”

“No Popemobile, that’s just wrong, not even a chariot?” I asked with a bit of humor in my voice.

Pete didn’t catch my attempt at humor and narrowing his eyes blurted out “are you kidding? We didn’t have didilly squat.” He paused and looked at me. “You know it actually offends me how the Church can surround a leader, any leader in that kind of in that sort of opulence, and to think that they named Saint Peter’s after me. Do I look like I would even hang around in a place like that? Judas might have liked it but I’d rather they named a ballpark after me.”

“Well it could be worse.”

“How?” Pete gave me a curious glance.

“We’ll it could be like the studio that the Terrible Blond Network uses, the one that looks like an ecclesiastic French brothel.”

“Oh Padre, don’t get me going on that subject, those people really piss off the boss, and to think of all the money they bilk out of folks.  He took another drink of his beer “not bad stuff and the dog is pretty good too for ballpark food.”

“Glad that you like it.”

“Thanks, you know there Padre I don’t think I would want to be Pope now, my successor Benedict has his hands full mainly because they try to run the place like a massive government all those bureaucrats and clergy functioning as diplomats and everything but being priests, and it’s not just the Roman part of the church. It’s like you said, those guys on TV talking about being happy healthy and wealthy as the crux of the Christian life haven’t got a clue.  Same with the folks that try to get away from the excesses of the prosperity Gospel heretics so much that they throw out the baby with the baptismal waters.”

Pete paused and I broke in. “Pretty messed up, if you ask me.”

Pete continued. “Yeh, it’s messed up all right but the Church has been messing up for 2000 years, I messed up pretty bad at times too.” He took another gulp of his beer and continued. “Nowdays though, it’s like 2000 years of getting stupid have really made an impact. Some of these churches seem to be afraid of even looking Christian, like that whole Willow Creek bunch, they don’t want to offend people, and then the stadium sized churches that seat more people than Harbor Park, and others that spend so much on things that look nice but really aren’t needed. I don’t think that any of them have a clue, no sense of decorum or real understanding of what the Boss was talking about.”

“You almost sound like Andrew Greeley.” I chuckled.

“I think that Padre Andrew has done a lot of good, he makes that Blackie Ryan fellow believable and the kind of priest that you would want to be around. I like his Bishop Blackie mysteries, always fun to read, and a lot about the grace of God in them too.”

“I know, they helped me get through Iraq and the past couple of years when I pretty much was an agnostic.”

“That suck Padre, people don’t like to admit how hard it is to believe sometimes. I remember back after the Boss got crucified. My world crashed around me. If he had waited longer than three days to get himself resurrected I might have completely lost my faith. I’m not surprised that you did but at least you are on the way back.”

“Thanks Pete, I hope so.”

“You know Padre, back in the day we had very little but did try to keep a sense of decorum and sense that Jesus was with us because he said that he was with us in the breaking of the bread.  I’ll tell you what it shocked the heck out of me when he started talking to us about “eating his flesh,” that my friend chased a lot of the hangers on away.  I don’t know why people that call themselves by the Bosses’ name have to make things so hard, and I’m not even talking dogma and doctrine just living the Christian life, you know that thing that the Boss said about the top two commandments, love God and love your neighbor.  For us that was mind blowing because a lot of the really religious folks in our day were all about rules that made life hard for regular people, just like today and you can be sure that the Sadducees and Pharisees wouldn’t be having a non-Kosher Tides dog and beer with you a Gentile military officer, no way” a brief pause and he continued “no offense intended.” He stopped and looked at me and I replied “none taken my friend.”

You remember the movie Bull Durham Padre?”

“Of course Pete, I watch it at least two or three times a year, it’s almost a religious thing.”

“You know where the manager gets mad at the players and said “It’s a simple game, you catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Anyway, that’s a lot like the Christian life, it’s really not that difficult but we can make such a mess of it.”

Somehow the ball game seemed like it was background noise, Pete was really wrapped up in what he was saying and I knew that he meant every word. He smiled at me and continued.

“Of course Padre there are all of those churches that are more interested in promoting certain social agendas from all over the political spectrum than focusing on the top two commandments. They make themselves look like pawns of the politicians rather than the Bosses’ Church.  I tell you Padre there are times that the Boss really does get frustrated with what some of his people do in his name; I think that’s why he spends so much time at ball parks now.” Pete paused for a moment, took another gulp of his beer, wiped his beard and looked at me as he took a deep breath and sighed looking out at the diamond where left hander Troy Patton was pitching well for the Tides and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were imploding defensively as the Tides hitters were pounding out hit after hit.

“The Tides, an Orioles farm team huh?”

“Yep, that they are Pete.”

“Well I tell you the O’s are having problems but as a Yankees fan I’m kind of glad because when they get well they will be a pain in the ass to the Yankees, all they need is a first rate manager to get the kids to pull things together and to get that owner of theirs, Angelos is it, to spend some money to get some solid all star caliber veterans to build around and to help nurture these guys along. They do have the young talent, just need the leadership to make it happen, they need another Earl Weaver type of manager to do the job.”

“I’d like to see Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter.”

“I don’t think Valentine is the man, but if the O’s can get Showalter things will change in a hurry.”

“I hope that they get someone like that, anything’s got to be better than the leadership that they have had for so long.”

It was amazing to me how Pete went from what he viewed as the problems of the modern church back to baseball so quickly and I realized that he needed this.

About this time Tides outfielder Jeff Salazar smashed a pitch over the right field wall bringing the crow to its feet including Pete who was applauding loudly and as Salazar crossed the plate looked at me and said “high five” before his massive hand slapped my pip squeak hand causing it to sting just a bit. As the crowd continued to cheer Pete reached in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone and looking at me said “just a second, it’s the Boss.”  He put the flip phone to his ear and I tried to listen in just a bit. “Yeah Skip, its Pete, what do you need?” I could not hear what was being said on the other end of the phone just Pete’s responses which were punctuated by his head nodding up and down and words like “yes, okay and sure.”  I still have no idea what they were talking about but it looked serious. Pete then said “I’ll get on it Skip, take care, later.”

Pete looked at me. “The Boss sends his congratulations on getting selected to promotion. You know that he really liked the military people that he met, the professional soldiers like the Centurion and that it was a military guy, Cornelius the Centurion and his family that was the first Gentile family that I got to spend some time with, they were really great folks.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool coming from the Boss himself.” I said.

“The Boss also told me to tell you not to let it go to your head and to make sure that you keep it real.”

“I think that I can do that Pete, after all I wasn’t always a Priest or Chaplain, just a Navy Chief’s kid that has been in the military for a long time.”

Pete looked at me and by the look on his face I knew that he was not done talking. “Padre, the Boss wanted me to let you know that he cares for your dad and for you not to worry about him.”

“Why should I worry, he’s got Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know me but he’s been medically stable for a good amount of time and last time I talked to my mom she said that he didn’t look too bad the last time that she visited him.” I looked at Pete as he was finishing his beer.

“The Boss just told me to let you know that he loves your dad and cares about him.” The look in his eye was far away. “I remember my dad, a fisherman like me, he was already gone by the time the Boss came into my life, and he just passed away in his sleep one night after a long night and day on the boats on the Sea of Galilee.”

“Sounds like you miss your dad.”

“I do Padre, but I tell you what, we’ll have to do this again. The boss told me that he needs me to come up and see him up in D.C. it seems that he wants some of the team to meet him there conduct some business and take in a National’s game, sure hope that he gets us tickets to see Strasburg.”

“That would be cool, think that I can come?”

“No not this time Padre, but I’ll talk to the Boss for you to join us somewhere on the road, or maybe even back in time. Besides you’re going to have a lot to do soon.”

Pete got up from his seat and patted me on the back. “Take care Padre, be safe on your way home.”

“Pete you take care too.” Pete turned and began to walk up the steps where he shook Elliott’s hand before he left.  Shortly after Pete left I went to Elliott and Elliott said to me. “Padre you have some interesting friends, you have some interesting friends.”

“I know my friend, funny how you knew Pete too.”

“What can I say?” replied Elliott as Pete got to the concourse, shook hands with Dave, said a few words and headed out of the ball park.

“Seems like Pete knows a lot of people huh?” I said as I looked back at Elliott.

“He gets around there Padre, he gets around.”

 

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