Tag Archives: the mystery of the cross

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

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

martin-lutherMartin Luther

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

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

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

luther_at_wormsLuther at the Diet of Worms

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

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

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

marburgZwingli and Luther at Marburg

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

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

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

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

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

MARC KNEELING2Profiles in Stupidity Pastor Marc Grizzard

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Yankees BaseballAlex Rodriguez Broke out of His Slump

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

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Alleluia! Memories of Easter…Past and Present

easter-2002-on-hue-cityEaster aboard USS Hue City CG-66 off the Horn of Africa 2002

I find Easter to be an interesting time.  I tend to get reflective and while I do joyfully say “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” I also tend to be somewhat subdued.  By nature I am reflective person, I like to watch, observe and think.  I am not into big Easter productions and extravaganzas. I prefer much more simple expressions of the Risen Lord.  I think that Jesus would go along with me on this as he spent that first Easter walking with friends, who failed to recognize him, and then breaking bread, he celebrated the first Eucharist after the Resurrection at Emmaus.

For me my most memorable Easters have been connected with my life in the military.  They have almost always been simple affairs, and most involving the liturgy somehow.  I think the first Easter that I remember was at Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, it was seeing the Chaplains in their Summer White uniforms that still stands out to me today.  I remember a Easter Sunrise service at Naval Station Long Beach and looking in wonder at two “mothballed” carriers of World War II vintage, the USS Boxer and USS Princeton moored near the site of the service on the waterfront.  When my dad was in Vietnam and we had been made unwelcome in a civilian church, we attended Mass at the Quonset hut that served as the Chapel on the little Naval Communications station.  In my senior year of high school I made a cruise on Navy ships to and from Pearl Harbor Hawaii.  During the week at Pearl I made the trip to the Arizona Memorial on Easter Sunday.  For some reason that experience reverberated as loud as any church service I have ever attended.  When I was a young Army Officer running from God and hiding in the Chapel, the Deity Herself patently used the events of Holy Week to “rend my heart” so to speak.  I left the Good Friday Tenebrea service praying that Easter would come.  Our good Lutheran Chaplain, Lee Rittenbach had driven home the reality of Jesus’ death so well that I really started to understand what the disciples went through.  When Easter came I learned to say “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

After that I went through kind of a spiritual desert as far as Easter was concerned.  In seminary I was attending mega-churches which did nothing with Holy week, and made a big evangelical production of Easter, complete with overly loud and insipidly shallow “worship” music and laborious preaching.  I have to say that these big productions were more of an ordeal than a celebration for me.  During seminary we were going through sickness, financial disaster, loss of our home, cars and struggling to survive working multiple jobs while being a full time student.  How we got through seminary I will never understand, other than that the Deity herself provided for us through a lot of wonderful people.  The “happy talk” at church, the prosperity Gospel, focus on signs and wonders seemed to reflect almost a gnostic other worldly view of life that I did not see in the Scriptures.

Academically and from a theological point of view Easter began to rally take shape for me.  Reading the Church Fathers as well reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Emil Brunner’s The Scandal of Christianity, Alister McGrath’s The Mystery of the Cross, Hans Kung’s On Being a Christian and Jurgen Moltman’s The Crucified God brought me to greater understanding of the connectedness of Easter to the Incarnation and the Passion.  One of my professors, a kindly gentleman named Yandall Woodfin, made a comment in his Philosophy of Religion class:  “We do not do Christian Theology without coming to grips with the reality of suffering and death.”  That comment was at first offensive to me because my mega-church pastors all focused on the Resurrection.  Death to them seemed to be a bother. One pastor said in a sermon how he did not do visits to the sick.  When asked by someone how sick they had to be for him to see them, he stated “You don’t want to be that sick.”

However, what Dr. Woodfin said planted a seed in me.  This went from an academic question, to daily reality during my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland hospital.  Doing various Holy Week services there, in the midst of the amazing amount of pain, suffering and death in that gargantuan Medical Center brought into focus and made real what Dr. Woodfin said.  At Parkland there was no avoiding death or suffering, and what Dr. Woodfin said was right.  We don’t begin to do Christian theology until we we deal with suffering and death.  Easter and the Resurrection don’t happen without the Incarnation and Passion of Jesus.  Easter disconnected from the reality of suffering and death is nothing more than a “happy thought” or escape that avoids the the great Mystery of Faith: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

After Parkland my understanding of Easter grew as I was immersed in the liturgy, began to observe the liturgical year, and occasionally “clandestinely” attend Anglican churches during Christmas and Easter. During this time Judy became Roman Catholic, something that accelerated what was already going on in me.  During my formation process and following my ordination to first the Deaconate and then the Priesthood, the understanding deepened as I saw how the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. As an Army Reserve chaplain serving on active duty I experienced the life of a parish pastor at a small base in central Pennsylvania.  There I saw how the how the liturgical year and life are so intimately connect.  In life and death, in sorrow and joy, in good times and bad, the Holy Spirit touched people.

Easter became even more part of my life when I became a Navy Chaplain and left the Army in the “rear view mirror.”  Here I began to see how wonderful Easter is when you do not have all the “smells and bells” “praise teams” or great music or facilities.  It goes back to simplicity.  On Easter Sunday 2001, I was on the USS Frederick, LST 1184 with my Marines going from Korea back to Okinawa.  It was on Frederick 23 years before that I had first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain during the trip to Pearl Harbor.  In 2002 I was deployed on USS Hue City CG-66 at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. Off the Horn of Africa we had both sunrise services as well as a morning Eucharist on our flight deck. While with the Marine Security Forces I spent an Easter celebrating Eucharist on the fence-line adjoining Communist Cuba.  I now have come back to critical care hospital ministry in my ICUs.  Here we live Good Friday every day.  For me Easter is not just a nice thing to observe, but a necessity in life.

This morning I attended the early Mass with Judy at Ascension Catholic Church.  I love the church, though it is a bit big and busy for me now after Iraq.  So I found me a corner near the choir where I could sit with my back against the wall, an emergency exit to my left, and where I could observe what was going on.  Yes I was having a PTSD moment, but I got through it with the help of the Deity herself and a little ant-anxiety medication.  But the really cool thing was seeing a man who was one of our patients on the ICU a couple of months back.  A man who almost died on us several times, and his wife.  We had grown close during that 2 1/2 weeks and he made it through.  He looked great this morning.  We all hugged and talked of how good God is before Mass, exchanged the Peace and then spent some time together after Mass. That was really cool.  What a way to celebrate Easter.

Life and death, pain and suffering, healing and resurrection.  Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Peace, Steve+

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