Tag Archives: talk radio

Loathe is Never Having to say You’re Sorry: Pundits and Politicians Point Fingers and Deny Responsibility for the Fruit of anything that they Say or the Climate that they create

Being a political hack means never having to say that you are sorry. Two days after the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the killing of 6 others including Federal Judge John Roll and the wounding of 13 others we are subjected to the incessant finger pointing and denial of responsibility by politicians but even more so by political pundits and talk show hosts. Partisans on both sides are pointing fingers at the other and attempting to place blame on others for the acts of a mentally disturbed individual who seems to have a rather eclectic set of influences.

Liberals have blamed the Tea Party and conservative talk show hosts without a clear connection between them and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. Conservatives immediately, like on Saturday jumped on a singular statement of a person that knew Loughner in high school who had not seen or talked to him since 2007 to label him a “dope smoking liberal” and even a “Democrat.”

Of course we know very little about Loughner other than to know that he is obviously quite disturbed with a diversity of political influences from the Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf.  Loughner ranted almost incoherently vague references to the Constitution and unconstitutional Federal and State laws, the Gold Standard, illiteracy, distrust of the current government and government controlled currency as well as alleged government mind control.  In other words this angry and disturbed young man who also seems to come from a pretty strange family I might add does not fit your traditional liberal or conservative archetype.  In spite of this pundits and politicians of all stripes have made haven’t missed a beat in placing the blame on their political enemies. I don’t say their political opponents because they actually do hate each other and are intent on destroying each other and the country as we know it I might add.

I thought it unwise for Democrats to try to pin this on the Tea Party without evidence and I thought it was absurd and incendiary for those on the right to make hay of a singular statement by someone that hasn’t seen Loughner in 4 years that Loughner is a liberal Democrat.  For crying out loud both of these charges without conclusive evidence were blatant attempts to gain political leverage out of a tragedy by throwing out innuendo as if it were fact and then ignoring any repercussions.

There was a brief moment when many hoped that the vicious rhetoric would be toned down after the terrible evil perpetuated by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson.   That is not the case and I said it would not be so. Like I have said before it seems that the extremists on both sides are willing to destroy the country in order to save it to borrow and slightly modify the phrase from the Vietnam War. It doesn’t matter if it is Keith Olberman or some Democrat Congressman on the left or Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neil Boortz, Michael Savage or Ann Coulter on the right there is simply no regard for truth. It is all about destroying the other side, demonizing them and finding some way to gain a political advantage from tragedy.

The political Left is guilty of some pretty crass and opportunistic behavior in many cases but the loudest and most heard voices are on the right particularly the “conservative” talk radio hosts. This is a fact as all of them proudly proclaim.  By their own proclamation they are the ones making the impact and who people are listening to and ratings show it.  For goodness sakes the Left has so little clout in this country it is not even funny despite claims of “media bias” so loudly chanted by the Right. Which is the most popular Cable News Channel? Fox News I think. Who gets the biggest radio rating? Limbaugh followed by Hannity, Savage and Boortz I think. Which are the most popular political websites? I think that internet traffic points to Worldnetdaily.com, Newsmax.com and Townhall.com.  For conservatives to complain about media bias is ludicrous now. They own the airwaves. Thanks to people like Dan Rather much of the “mainstream” media is discredited in the eyes of the American people.  Yet almost to a man those on the right keep crying about anyone who claims that they might be responsible on the intellectual level of people, both the sane and the insane who commit heinous acts which correspond with things that they preach.

In particular in the case of Congresswoman Giffords who protested outside her office? I think that it was the Tea Party. When was her office door shot out? I think that it was after she voted for the Health Care bill if I am correct. Who opposed the Health Care bill? I think it was conservatives. Who dropped a handgun at one of her rallies? Maybe it was a liberal supporter of the congresswoman? Not hardly. Which former Vice Presidential candidates PAC put a gun sight target over her district and left it up after the election? I think that was Sarah Palin. Whose Republican opponent urged his supports to come out with their M-16’s to support him? I think that it was Mike Kelly who ran against her in 2010. Need I say more?

Yes Jared Lee Loughner is a paranoid nutcase and probably will be ruled insane at some point. But people like him roam the streets easily influenced by extremists and radicals that stoke the fires of hatred. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but we are jumping headlong into the abyss and those of us moderates who want to see us back away from it are derided and in the case of Gabrielle Gifford shot in the head after repeated violent threats. I know what it is like to be threatened by violent deranged Neo Nazis on this website. It is frightening as hell to have people say that they will find you and harm you, hell I felt safer in Iraq than I do in this country. It is appalling yet the extremists don’t give a damn. They will destroy us all, even people that agree with them on some points.

I know something about the spirit of conservative talk radio. I was an avid listener from the mid-1990s until I returned from Iraq. I listened to Rush, Hannity, Boortz and Savage as often as I could and I can tell you that they are experts at manipulating facts and words to stir up the raw emotion of hatred of the left.  They all ask for hours of peoples time with good reason. When someone listens to the same message for hours on end eventually that is what they believe to be the truth.  When that is multiplied for 3, 6 or even 10-12 hours a day there is no other truth to believe.  From personal experience I can say that their tactics work well. They work their listeners into a rage against their political opponents creating anxiety and a sense of being victimized by the left wing media and political alliance.  I know I listened for years and my wife can attest to how angry I was.  When I came back from Iraq with a changed perspective I realized what had happened to me in those years. I have also listened to the left wing equivalents and with the exception of the invective of Keith Olberman they are little match for these guys. They command the airwaves and their internet presence is amazing and with a Republican-Tea Party controlled House they will not be silenced even if the left calls for the reinstatement of the so called fairness doctrine.

One of the last Chancellors of the Weimar Republic was General Kurt Von Schleicher. Von Schleicher who saw the dire threat posed by the extremes on the left represented by the Communists and the right by Hitler’s Nazi Party attempted to piece together a coalition of moderate parties which fell apart. Schleicher was then betrayed by conservative Franz Von Papen who then arranged for President Paul Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. After he took power Hitler swiftly eliminated opposition parties and during his purge of his own radical SA Brownshirts exacted his revenge of previous political opponents including Von Schleicher who was killed at his home along with his wife. So much for moderation, what good is it anyway?

The night before she was shot Gabrielle Giffords wrote this e-mail to her friend Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, after he was named Director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics:  “After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation, I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”

Von Schleicher was killed, Giffords grievously wounded. Unfortunately that is the fate of moderates in any country where extremists battle for power. That is history and the verbal bloodlust being perpetrated by the extremes but in particular the right which has been much more militant of late than the left which will destroy our Republic. Mark my words. If I’m wrong I will admit it and plead forgiveness, but I know from history where we are going and it will not be kind. God help us all.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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I Hate Appalachian Nazis: A Response to “Briar Cavendish”

Elwood Blues: “Illinois Nazis?”

Jake Blues: “I hate Illinois Nazis”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EoOZKjAjlk

I think I can safely echo the thoughts of Jake and Elwood Blues about Illinois or any other type of Nazis that skulk about the dark recesses of the American heartland attempting to blend in with decent Americans while peddling their hate on the internet.

If you read my post from last night and early this morning about what can only be described as an online assault on me by someone that calls himself “Briar Cavendish” you know that it shook me pretty bad. But I also said that I would not back down.  The words and thoughts of this Cavendish fellow who is too cowardly to use his real name but a rather a nom d’guerre is obviously pretty disturbed. So will endeavor to disturb him more to hopefully cause him to slip up and identify himself.

You see last night I went to bed very upset and didn’t sleep well.  The only thing that got me through the early part of the day at work was one hellacious workout for morning PT but apart from that I was pretty wiped out and in a funk through most of the day. It was only tonight that I decided to fight back.  I researched all that I could about him and it seems that he is most likely according to his IP address from somewhere between Johnson City Tennessee and Abingdon Virginia as both cities came up as the location. I’m presuming that he is in a rural area and that his internet service provider alternates him between cities or hat he lives in one and works in the other.  I had thought that he might be in Knoxville Tennessee but think that my initial hypothesis was wrong as the owner of the business using the name “Briar Cavendish” appears to be legit and pretty busy with real life to go around doing such things. The fact also that the ISP address is not in Knoxville kind of confirmed that.

But tonight as I researched him I found a plethora of pathetic posts on numerous sites. Evidently my admirer “Briar” is rabid Appalachian Nazi; he posts this stuff all over the place and seems to be sought out by like-mindless people on some of these sites. What amazed me was not that he was posting but just how many people like him spew this hate on these sites. Some call themselves White Supremacists, others American Nazis and a host of other titles. But the common thread is a hatred of African Americans, other non-white people, Jews, Muslims, established political parties, Christians that disagree with them and by the way need I say President Barak Obama and the belief that they represent the true spirit of America.  The have affiliated sites that cater to veterans, stay at home moms and pseudo-intellectuals.  They often stand should to shoulder with alleged “patriot” groups who while not in total agreement with the Nazis echo many similar themes.  The thing that freaked me out about my admirer “Briar’s” comments were how close some of them regarding minorities, immigrants, political parties especially the Democrats and Barak Obama are to e-mail that I receive from older friends and relatives who spam out e-mails that are full of lies, distortions, wives tales and are easily identified as such by going to Snopes.com.

I guess what bothers me is that many of the themes of the Neo-Nazis are echoed by well meaning people who are simply upset about the direction of the country and have been whipped into frenzy by the 24 hour news cycle and nonstop talk radio.  I think from my study of history, especially the Weimar and Nazi era, which was a specialization in my Masters Degree that I know a few things about what happens when passions become this inflamed in a polarized body-politic that the result is seldom good. It simply takes a crisis be it political, economic or military to push well meaning people who have been pushed to the edge over the cliff into the abyss of civil war and chaos. I can still see the bullet holes in a school that I helped to paint in Rijeka Croatia and the devastation wrought by the Iraq insurgency the mass graves of Bergen-Belsen and Barracks and Gas Chambers of Dachau to see what can happen when this happens.  In fact I think that is what frightened me most about the attack on me last night is that we appear to be sitting on a tinderbox in a sea of gasoline with idiots all about playing with fire.

So anyway, Briar so go ahead. Take your best shot and if you are a man identify yourself and enter into dialogue. If you don’t I have to assume that you are you simply a Hillbilly Hitler with bad teeth, no real reasoning skills and no writing ability.  You make me long for Joey Goebbels, despite being a Nazi thug at least could write, speak and wasn’t afraid to identify himself.  From now on if you post on Padre Steve’s World it will be on my terms and I will shut you down you racist, homophobic Hillbilly Hitler with delusions of dictatorship.  You see Briar you and cowards like yourself skulk about in darkness using pseudonyms to post your pathetic hate filled drivel using the freedoms that I and millions like me have secured for you since our nation came into being.  You’re a pathetic excuse for an American.

Go ahead, make my day,

Padre Steve+

PS. I know that this was not a very “grace filled” post but people like this need to be called out or they will doom themselves and the rest of us to a fratricidal conflict that will make our Civil War look like child’s play.

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Giving Up Ideology for the Cross…Entering Into Lent

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and for many it will be as any other day.  For others it will be a religious event that is done because we have always done it and it is a part of the liturgical life of the Church.  For others it will be a time of commitment to a cause, a belief or in some cases ideology to base their lives upon.

Lent is a penitential time, a time to take stock of our lives and in the Christian faith in which it has a important place a time where over a period of seven weeks we seek to again renew our faith in Christ, examine our lives in light of the Gospel and learn again how to experience the grace love and mercy of God in the simple words of Jesus to the woman at the well “Your sins have been forgiven, go and sin no more.”

While this is the crux of Lent for some it will be a time of misplaced activity, not activity centered on prayer, good works and renewing faith in the Crucified One but rather in transitory political, social and ideological agendas that often have little to do with the Gospel, but are rather activities where well meaning people have been seduced into the false promises of ideologues of various persuasions who have no real interest in the Gospel but political or economic power be they conservative or liberal, capitalist or socialist.  The seductiveness of these ideologies appeals to the passion and emotion of people who regardless of their political or religious persuasions become enamored with the ideology and then reinterpret life, faith and relationships to fit the ideology.  When this happens to Christians this can lead to twisting Scripture and Tradition to fit the ideology much as did the theologians, pastors and lay people in German churches in the late 1920s and 1930s.

When two powerful ideologies collide as did Communism and National Socialism in Germany, Socialism and Gaullism is France or contemporary Liberalism and Conservatism in the United States the conflict will spill out and over into Churches and other religious institutions.  Well meaning people will sublimate their faith beneath the ideology and political ethos that they most agree with.  The ideology overrides faith even as the religious institutions and individuals within them conform their faith not to Christ crucified but to ideologies which may have merit and benefit but ultimately, despite the protestations of tier loudest purveyors have little actually to do with the faith and which embraced in their totality are the antithesis of the faith and the enemies of Christ.  It matters not if the ideology is “liberal” or “conservative” because ultimately these ideologies even when defended by pastors, theologians and “baptized” with Scripture, and despite some qualities which may be complimentary to the Gospel are often set against the Gospel and seek to use the Church, Christians and others simply as pawns to sacrifice in their quest for total unadulterated political, social or economic power.

In our contemporary American culture the loudest and most prominent voices and those which have more influence on churches and individual Christians are the political ideologues of the right and the left who inhabit talk radio and the various cable television news networks.  It seems too often that well meaning Christians and others assume everything being spoken from media personalities and entertainers that they like and agree with is compatible with the faith.  However just because Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews or any other commentator on the airwaves says, nor because our political party leaders and Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates echo our passions and feed our fears about the other party does not mean that what they say is Christian or compatible with the Christian faith and tradition even when those individuals claim the mantle of a “Christian” leader.  The adoption and blessing of the often perverted theological ideas of media personalities, talking heads and politicians by individual Christians, Church leaders and denominations can only result in their enslavement by the individuals and organizations to whit they give their blessing.  When this happens the ideologues will readily support social or policy goals of the religious groups but only to gain their vote.  This is proven by history and experience.  One only has to look at how German Christians of various traditions were seduced by the promises of Hitler and the Nazis during a time since November 1918 their society had been ripped apart by military defeat, economic humiliation, internal revolution and societal change which threatened the values that they held dear and in reactions to the Nazi promises sold themselves and their country to the devil. This type of thing has happened in other countries but is most glaringly seen in the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi era.

Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth, a leader of the Confessing Church was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis lectured about how ideology can become its own idol and the purveyors of ideology can themselves make it an idol from which they cannot separate themselves and to which they become mouthpieces for as they bend their deeply held belief’s to the ideology.  The ideology itself becomes an absolute from which no deviation is allowed.  As Barth so poignantly stated:

“[Ideology] comes about as [one] thinks he can and should ascribe to the presuppositions and sketches he has achieved by his remarkable ability, not just a provisional and transitory but a permanent normativity, not just one that is relative but one that is absolute, not just one that is human but one that is quasi-divine.  His hypotheses become for him theses behind which he no longer ventures to go back with seeking, questioning, and researching.  He thinks that they can be thought and formulated definitively as thoughts that are not merely useful but instrinsically true and therefore binding.  His ideal becomes an idol.  He thinks that he knows only unshakable principles and among them a basic principle in relation to which he must coordinate and develop them as a whole, combining them all, and with them his perceptions and concepts, into a system, making of his ideas an ideology.  Here again the reins slip out of his hands.  This creature of his, the ideology, seems to be so wonderfully glorious and exerts on him such a fascination that he thinks he should move and think and act more and more within its framework and under its direction, since salvation can be achieved only through the works of its law.  This ideology becomes the object of his reflection, the backbone and norm of his disposition, the guiding star of his action.  All his calculations, exertions, and efforts are now predestined by it.  They roll towards its further confirmation and triumph like balls on a steep slope.  Man’s whole loyalty is loyalty to the line demanded by it.  He thinks that he possesses it, but in truth it already possesses him.  In relation to it he is no longer the free man who thought he had found it in its glory and should help to put it on the throne.  He now ventures to ask and answer only within its schema.  He must now orient himself to it.  He must represent it as its more or less authentic witness and go to work as its great or small priest and prophet. At root he no longer has anything of his own to say.  He can only mouth the piece dictated to him as intelligibly as he can, and perhaps like a mere parrot.  His own face threatens already to disappear behind the mask that he must wear as its representative.  He already measures and evaluates others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” ~ Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV/4, Lecture Fragments, 225.

Barth’s words which are the result of seeing good people surrender their faith to ideology should not be taken lightly as we enter into the Lenten season.  The season of Lent is a time to acknowledge our need for the grace and mercy of God and find forgiveness for ourselves while extending the same grace, love and mercy shown to us to our neighbor, even the neighbor who does not agree with the ideologues that we prefer.

Our challenge in a time of turmoil and conflict is not to be seduced by the shameless appeals of ideologues of all stripes but to return to faith in the God who comes to us, suffers for and with us and in himself provides the promise of redemption and the forgiveness of sins.

For me this Lent will involve a more premeditated effort to encounter Christ in all that I meet and rebuilt spiritual disciplines that suffered when I went through the crisis of faith that dominated my life for nearly two years.  I do pray that for those who elect to observe this season that it will not be a time of legalistic obedience under which we chafe but rather a time of returning to our first love and forsaking the idols of ideology that can so poison our life and relationships with those that we live and interact with on a daily basis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve muses about Lenten Traditions and Spirituality…as Usual a Bit Differently than Others

Looks Like a Lot of Salad ahead for Padre Steve

As we know Lent is a time of penitence and fasting.  My little goof ball brain has wrestled with this ever since coming into a Catholic tradition back in the mid-1990s.  As someone who grew up pretty ecumenical and culturally Protestant it was a hard transition.  Getting to an Anglican and then more Anglo-Catholic theological viewpoint in seminary and the years following was easy.  “Head stuff” theology, Church History and other academic disciplines come very easy to me.  I live in that world and I love that world, even as a Chaplain in a major teaching medical center I find that I am deeply involved in academics, in this case health care ethics and the role of religion and spirituality in health care.

Developing spiritual disciplines have always been harder for me; however I have developed some over the years especially since I entered the Anglo-Catholic tradition.  I value the Daily Office and my spirituality centers around the Eucharist.  That being said I have struggled with the more aesthetic aspects of the spiritual life. I think that a major part of this is due to my early life in the Evangelical Protestant tradition.  These disciplines are not deeply imbedded in the evangelical tradition.  It is not that fasting is not found among Evangelicals, but it plays a different role and for most it is not a routine part of spiritual life for most.  In the churches I grew up in fasting or abstinence were both voluntary and for most not a part of church life.  There are exceptions to this. Some churches take on 40 days of fasting programs, but these are usually just another part of the churches program for a particular time and usually not continued on a regular basis.  So for me this did not come naturally and as a result I struggled with Lent and never looked forward to it.  I discussed this some in my previous essay.

Yet, fasting and abstinence can be very beneficial in developing spiritual disciplines, even for people like me.  I always try to ensure that I observe meatless Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays.  When I was deployed on USS Hue City during Operation Enduring Freedom I had to deal with Lent. Every Friday evening the ship typically served “Surf and Turf.”  Since the “turf” was off the menu for me I had to deal with the “surf.”  To be sure I am not a big fan of fish or seafood in general.  However in the evening the “surf” was either Alaskan king crab or lobster.  So for that Lenten observance I had to suffer for Jesus as I made due with these awful delicacies.

Now I have struggled and still struggle at Lent, especially when I focus or become obsessed about what I am giving up, versus trying to use this time as a means to develop and my own spiritual disciplines.  When I get focused on the “what’s” of Lent and not the purpose for it I fail miserably.  Lent is often for me like spiritual New Year’s resolutions. To be honest I’m still working on these disciplines, I figure I will be doing so the rest of my life as old habits die hard.

My own journey in learning to “survive” Lent is to let go.  If things impede and frustrate me then I need to let go of them and focus on what will actually build me up spiritually.  Last year I decided to reduce the amount of time I spent watching all the talking heads on TV news and listening to the incessant drumbeat of talk radio.  When I did this I noticed a radical shift, I was not long spun up about all the apocalyptic invective on both the right and the left.  I began to be able to relax and actually let God’s grace begin to work in me, especially because of what I went through coming back from Iraq.  It worked so well that I never went back. Now I watch religious programming like Sports Center, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption and listen to Mike and Mike in the Morning and The Tony Mercurio Show on my local ESPN station FM 94.1.  Another thing that helped me was reading Andrew Greeley’s “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mystery novels which I started doing in Iraq.  They are so full of the grace of God and numerous times have touched my very soul. It is now easier, for the most part for me to see people of all religious and political viewpoints as people who God loves and not enemies of me or the unnamed political party to which I may or may not belong.

This year Lent should be better than last when I was still battling the demons of PTSD and was trying to climb out of that hole.  That did not happen during Lent last year but began to happen during Advent and Christmas.  This year I expect to celebrate Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday when I will conduct the “Protestant” Ash Wednesday service at the Medical Center where I work and also celebrate the season with the good people of Saint James Episcopal Church who during Lent of last year embraced me and helped me reconnect with Christian community.

Of course on Fat Tuesday I will celebrate with my friends in the Stein Club at Gordon Biersch.  I will have to bring donuts for everyone that night to have with our beer.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sacrament of the Smile….Making it Real

In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mystery “The Archbishop in Andalusia” the character Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I’m the kind of person that if I’m angry or not doing well my face can show it even if I don’t want it to.  It’s sometimes hard to hide emotions even though I try, but I have gotten pretty good at hiding them by putting on a poker face and smiling, even if it hurts to do so.   This works most of the time, but sometimes with people who know me pretty well it catch me.  They ask me if I’m doing okay and they are pretty good at taking care of me in those moments, which unfortunately are a lot more common after Iraq than before it but occasionally happen.

However on the whole I remain a pretty upbeat person.  I think my most common greeting with people that I work with or see relatively often is “Hey, what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening in the world?” Most of the time I’m a pretty laid back kind of person. I think that this is due a blend of genetics from a recessive gene in my family as well as having grown up on the West Coast and spending a lot of my adult life somewhere in the former Confederate States of America.   The genetic factor has to be a recessive gene as a lot of folks in my family can get spun up and pretty serious pretty fast.

Since being upbeat unless I am downcast is the baseline for me, even with my PTSD I find a lot of humor in life and still manage to have fun.  I love the folks that I work with in my ICUs and being in those places with those colleagues does me an incredible amount of good.

One thing that I have noticed is that it is important for me to smile; in fact I generally like smiling except when I don’t.   I admit that there are some times and some people that I am like the scene in the movie Patton where Patton is forced to make conversation with a Soviet General after the war.  In those kinds of times the smile is definitely faked and thankfully most people don’t realize it.

However what I find is that many people respond positively to a genuine and caring smile and greeting.  Let’s face it times are not the best, all the economic problems and political conflict coupled with ongoing wars and wondering what is going to happen stress a lot of people out.  A lot of this is the news media’s fault as they heap one negative story after another on their viewers, particularly those who are addicted to 24 hour non-stop cable news and talk radio.  As a result it is amazing to see the number of people out in town who don’t smile.  Since I work in a pretty good sized teaching medical center I see people going through a lot of health and life crisis, but even here I don’t quite see the level of disgruntledness that I see out in town.  Frankly I’d like to see a lot more gruntled than disgruntled people.

In the past year that I have been here I have endeavored to be as positive and cheerful as possible and with some exceptions I have managed pretty well.  In fact I have made it my crusade to honestly try to greet everyone that I contact with a kind word or smile and often a God bless you or simply “blessings on your head.” What I love to see is someone who has been obviously beaten down; do a double take when they realize that someone; that being me, is taking the time to say something nice to them.  I love the sheepish smiles, the surprised thank you and God bless you responses that I get in return.

No place is this more important than church or chapel service when I or for that matter any Priest or minister serves God’s people.  Grumpy pastors, who are too bothered to care, perform their duties in a perfunctory manner or worse are rude and disrespectful to the people that God entrusts to their care  do damage.  It’s like Archbishop Blackie said, the encounters that we have are occasions to share the grace and love of God, to be with them, care for them and are in a very real sense both evangelical and sacramental occasions.  When I was in Jacksonville Florida as a Navy Chaplain I would occasionally serve at the altar of our cathedral church.  People would almost always comment on how joyful I looked while celebrating Eucharist and serving communion.  How can I not be when I am entrusted with such a great gift for God’s people?

Judy and my college room-mate Kendra is in town this week.  We had kind of a three’s company situation.  I had my men’s bedroom which was a total college guy mess and Judy and Kendra shared the other bedroom.  At the time Kendra was an Atheist being bombarded by many of our well meaning but hyper aggressive Christian friends.  We had a blast.  Kendra is like super duper deaf, lost all of her hearing at the age of four after she had learned to speak and read. She’s incredibly intelligent and as a 15 year old scored in the upper one percentile of the SAT where I not to be too flashy scored somewhere around the upper thirty-fifth percentile due to my abysmal math score. It was due to Kendra that I learned sign language.  All of Judy’s friends were deaf at Cal State Northridge and I needed it, but Kendra and her sense of humor helped make me do it.  When I first met her Judy had to run out and when Judy came back to her dorm room, this was before the three’s company” set up she found Kendra and I reading the “Official Sick Joke Book” and since I couldn’t sign just yet pointing to the jokes and laughing.  Anyway, Kendra eventually came to faith and joined the Episcopal Church in Pasadena just a few years back.  In her spiritual biography she mentions us not trying to convert her, even going to church with us without feeling pressure. She knew that we cared for her and our continued friendship was a part of how she came to faith.  I thought that was so cool.  My sign language is in the crapper now but I am going to do my best to have fun.  I picked up a copy of “Mommy Dearest” so we could watch it and relive great memories of chasing each other around the apartment with wire coat hangers saying “no more wire hangers.” Trust me you have to see the movie to get this one.

Of course I try to ensure that I don’t appear to be a total idiot when I do this, with some mindless smile or joke that is inappropriate to the occasion.  Let’s look at a unlikely scenario: With me in the room the Doctor says to the patient “Sir, I have good and bad news.”   The patient says “What’s the good news?” The doctor replies “the good news is pretty soon you will feel no pain.”  The patient says “Doctor that’s wonderful news, you know I’ve been in so much pain for so long.  So what’s the bad news?” The doctor replies “Son you’re going to die.” Then I as the chaplain with a mindless big grin on my face chime in, “Let’s focus on the positive now…have you seen The Bucket list? Gotta love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman huh? They are such good actors.  Hey, I have an idea, you want to pray?”  As the nurses and doctors struggle to pull the man’s hands from around my throat I gasp out “so do you want me to come back later?”  That of course is extremely unlikely in my case; in fact I usually am the glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to dealing with sick people since I am neither a physician nor God.

I have a sense of gallows humor but am very careful how and when to use it and thankfully I am able to not smile like an idiot when bad news gets delivered.   It’s a gift.  Let’s face it there is that stuff about those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, everything has to be in balance.

All this being said there are times where the foot is in the other shoe. These are the times that the person who is afflicted with a life threatening condition or knows that they are dying is the one who smiles and comforts others, even throwing in a joke or poking fun at someone in the room.  Having experienced this even very recently I have to say that these kinds of folks do more for me than I think that I can ever do for them.   Often there is a time of interaction where the person allows me into their world, to share a story, a laugh and a blessing.  For a Priest it doesn’t get any better than that.  These are holy times where God shows up and tonight I have the honor of spending time with such a man and his family.  I am reminded at these times how precious the time is and just how in the midst of pain, suffering and even death, that the God who says “I will never leave you or forsake you” is truly with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I’ll be smiling tonight in every ward that I visit and hopefully with every staff member, patient and family member that I encounter, knowing that in their lives, that smile might be the only good thing that happens to them all day, or maybe even all week.

Make sure that you smile and give a kind word to someone soon.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Pastoral Care, philosophy

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church

pub2Contemplating Faith and Practice in A Pub

Note: This is an expansion of a topic that I wrote about in the beginnings of Padre Steve’s World.  At that time I had far fewer readers and the post itself was not nearly as fleshed out.  I do expect that some will be really angry with what I write here.  However, I write with no malice, nor condemnation of any particular belief or cause.  The issue for me is how we do things and treat people.  This matters as much as the content of what we say.  On a side note after a dismal road trip the Tides are back in town tonight to play the Lehigh ValleyIron Pigs.  The only saving grace to the Tides “June Swoon” is that their competitor the Durham Bulls who have done even worse. So the Tides remain in first palce in the IL South.

Since I am a “passionate moderate” I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  Likewise there might be some on the Left with whom I might also dig my grave.  As a passionate moderate I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society.  To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left a intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that being classed as a raving liberal is far more likely in today’s environment.  Conservatives are now out of power for the first time in a good number of years and mad as hell determined to regain what they lost.  Liberals on the other hand now have power and as any political party would do are advancing their agenda; the Democrat Party won the last couple of elections by a pretty convincing margin.  When Republicans won they also claimed a “mandate” for change.  It is the nature of our body politic.  The fact is that winners get to implement their agenda especially when they have big majorities in the legislative branch as well have the Presidency.

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry, acting disrespectfully or making comments that you hope that the government or country fails so you can get back in power.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them from the outside.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one and as such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war.  In doing so they have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about their opponents. In fact opponents are often demonized and declared to be evil.  Many in effect have become like the Taliban and if you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith has taught.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals rather that the redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to force non-believers into compliance.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in this kind of world are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations. This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.   On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved almost lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the primary reason for this move as he enunciated a philosophy of limited government, military preparedness, an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the sanctity of life in at least in what he said. Conservative politicians and religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.

I am not going to cast dispersion on the motives of liberal and conservative churches as they made these political alliances.  Far be it, the activity of churches has been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.  Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.  I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President  Obama “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party where they are just another interest group. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.  My view is that if you build relationships with people, loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith that comes to us from the Apostles.  Unfortunately I believe that at least for the moment we have been marginalized and it is because we have compromised ourselves allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion