Tag Archives: theologians of glory

I Want to Believe this Easter

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“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” Alfred North Whitehead 

Sometimes Holy Week can be a downer and I can understand why people who doubt, or who have been abused by Christians, either in the church or as outsiders find this to be so. I am a Christian, a priest, a Navy Chaplain. By all estimates I should be on the “inside” so to speak, but in the current religious and political climate I am an outsider. My crime to the “true believers” is that I question their certitude, and I reject the hateful ideas of an American Christian theocracy preached by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right.

As for me, this year, Holy Week has been a bit of a downer. I believe, but I don’t. For a while I wondered if it was my post-Iraq agnosticism returning, but after spending some time meditating and thinking on it I realized that was not the case. I do still believe, or at least I want to, but my doubt and unbelief now mainly comes from of my experience with Christians, not so much God.

Truthfully I wonder. I wonder if God is the God whose Son reconciled the world to himself, how those that claim to be his most devout followers seem more intent preaching a message of alienation and rejection rather than reconciliation. I wonder how people who claim to be the disciples of the Prince of Peace seem far more intent on conducting a jihad like culture war than the message of peace and reconciliation. I wonder how such people who claim to be God’s elect and anointed can so maltreat the very people who Jesus would have gone out of his way to care for, and in fact died and rose again in order to save. But I am not alone in this.

Rachel Held Evans wrote in a CNN religion blog yesterday:

“This is the tragic irony of the culture wars: The casualties tend to be the very people Jesus went out of his way to serve: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the outcasts, the people ostracized and deemed “sinners” by the religious elite. And when the world sees Christians hurting rather than helping such people in the name of political gain, our testimony is profoundly diminished.” 

I fully understand what she is saying. Personally I am tired of the abuse of people who in the name of their culture warrior political Christian elite must resort to the most loathsome methods to demonize people who do not agree with them, including me. Sadly, in addition to people who don’t know me from Adam who do this I have experienced it from so called “Christian” friends. If it wan’t for people, including conservative Christians who have stood by me through thick and thin, even when they disagree with me, I probably would just chuck Christianity and the church.

But I cannot do that if I believe in the message of Jesus. I cannot do that if I actually even somewhat believe message of Jesus. A message that reaches out even to the same people who seem to loath me and others like me with a hate stronger than life itself.

When when a person like me struggles to believe in the first place, and at the same time is rejected by those who loudly proclaim to be the disciples of Jesus it does get old. Way too old.

Since it is Holy Week and I am struggling I have decided to not get involved with any discussions this week with the supposed followers of Jesus on any social media that denigrate those who Jesus died to save. If I am to preserve any sort of faith I have to do this.

Sadly, that can and does include things not even connected with the actual Christian faith, mostly the politics of the supposedly “Christian Right.”  A couple of days ago I dared to state the truth that a certain Republican Presidential candidate espoused the same theocratic views as his Christian Dominionist preacher father. That got me attacked by a number of so called Christians including one whose Facebook avatar picture was a soldier wearing a death’s head mask with a pistol pointed directly at me. That man called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I told that man that I had a feeling that I knew what he would do if he actually met me. I picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to revealing attitudes of the heart.

Personally, between the rejection and abuse I have experienced from Christians that I thought were friends, as well as those who are no better than hateful trolls on social media I am pretty much done with all things remotely considered Christian by most Americans today. I find it no wonder that people are fleeing the church, and have no doubts as to why why every poll and trend shows that people increasingly want nothing to do with the those that call themselves Christian or the church.

But I stay, and the the only reason I remain now I think is that I believe in the Jesus of Good Friday, the Jesus who is rejected by all the theologians of glory and Christian Dominionists, the crucified God. I believe in the Jesus whose death was considered a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. If I am to believe this is the Jesus that I have to believe in, not the God of the “theologians of glory” or the Dominionists who seek to establish their kingdom on earth with a thin veneer of faith. It as as Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“The God of freedom, the true God, is… not recognized by his power and glory in the history of the world, but through his helplessness and his death on the scandal of the cross of Jesus”

Theologian Paul Tillich, who served as a U.S. Army Chaplain wrote “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  

In light of my belief in the scandal of the Cross, something that certainly is offensive to those that seek the power and glory of God even if it means trampling those that Jesus most identified, is a mission that I can subscribe.  Most of the people I deal with are those marginalized and rejected by the Christian pharisees, or what I call the “Christian Taliban.”  Personally I am tired of being associated with people who treat the poor, the alien, the different, the sinful and the afflicted as less than human, or less than worthy of God’s love and grace.  I am tired of being associated with people who claim to be pro-life so long as it only applies to life in the womb, who have no problem blessing war without end and the merciless killing of innocents abroad. I am tired of people who scream “let them die” at Presidential debates referring of course to the the poor and uninsured being the voice of Christianity in this county. People who have so discredited themselves and the faith as to make no one want to have anything to do with Jesus.

In the movie Joyeux Noel a priest and chaplain serving with a Scottish regiment during the Christmas truce of 1914 tells the Bishop who is sending him home: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.” Of course the bishop is a man who heartily subscribes to a war without mercy, just as so  many who call themselves Christians do today. When the priest questioned the bishop about being relieved of his duties, the bishop, in a manner similar to what I have experienced tells the priest: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

I have experienced such comments too much. So regardless of the cost, even the cost to myself I will chose to believe and serve the Crucified God, the God who is not the God of the theocrats of the “Christian” right, but the Crucified God who stands against them. The God who in humility and weakness  proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world and who stands against those who fraudulent attempt to establish their kingdoms in his name. People that often do so upon the bodies of those that they kill, and the lives of those that they despise. If this means that I am not suitable to “remain in the house of the Lord” than I would rather be an outcast on my own Golgotha this Holy Week than in that house.

Frankly, I don’t know what this Holy Week will bring for me. I am struggling. I want to believe, but sometimes I get so discouraged as one of those wounded by such people that I need to create some safe space if I am to find some solace.

I am opposed to the conservative Christian “Culture Wars” that so many of my friends and others have, and sadly still embrace. I see the “”Culture Wars” as antithetical to the Gospel. I see them as vain attempts to establish a state religion, an American Theocracy that would crush and destroy any that dare oppose it.

That being said I want to remain open to any who seek God. Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

My journey this Holy Week is one of hope. I do want to believe. Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

That is my journey this week, a journey from my own Golgotha to the Easter Alleluia. To do so I cannot give up hope. I probably won’t do very well at it,this week or any other, but that is my journey.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but somehow, it does make sense to me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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An Easter People Living in a Good Friday World

Barbara Johnson wrote that Christians are an “Easter People Living in a Good Friday World.”

In the memorial acclamation which is part of many Eucharistic liturgies we proclaim “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” or possibly this variant “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored your life, Lord Jesus come in glory.  It has been part of the proclamation of the Gospels and various books of the New Testament and is the faith and prayer of those that call themselves Christians almost regardless of denomination from the very beginning.

Around the world many Christians understand this as they are persecuted for their faith sometimes to the point of death. The reality of Christians and others who are persecuted for their faith in many countries is quite unlike many American Christians who seem to believe that if someone disagrees with them they are being persecuted, despite enjoying tremendous political power and being the majority religion of the land.  Yet even in this country we live in a Good Friday world, maybe not like those that are dying for their faith but certainly in a place where suffering and violence abound, where innocent people are brutally murdered and where natural disasters bring destruction on the just and the unjust alike. In fact our country is experiencing a crisis of an order that it has not seen in many decades even while war, economic collapse and natural disasters and deep political division have left many people in deep despondency as well as in a very angry mood.

Our technology enables us to gather information and to receive news often faster than we can absorb it, thus when deluged by bad news it is easy to lose sight of the things that matter in life, especially relationships with those that we love as well as those that become part of our lives and of the Crucified God.

It is during Lent, Holy Week and in the Easter Triduum of Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter that the reality of God participating in our world, the real world of pain, suffering, injustice and death becomes something that keeps us, or rather those who profess the Christian faith from simply becoming exponents of what Luther termed the “theology of glory.”  The Cross is that scandal or stumbling block that according to Jürgen Moltmann, the knowledge of which “brings a conflict of interest between God who has become man and man who wishes to become God.” It is the Cross which forces us to deal with the present realities even while we remain fixed upon the hope of Easter.

Unfortunately for many American Christians our focus tends to be less on the Crucified and Risen God than on our attempts to use the raw power of the political process and unsavory compromises with those that would co-opt and compromise the faithful for the advancement of their political, social and economic agendas.  This is nothing new; it has been an unfortunate and painful series of chapters in the history of the Christian Church since the time that Christianity became legal and the State religion during the reign of Constantine.  The sad truth is that in Western Christianity beginning with the Catholic Church and extending out to those that have been the theological heirs of Saint Augustine Catholic and Protestant alike have more often than not allowed their faith to be subordinated to their political, economic and social agendas and thereby becoming captive to things that are often antithetical to the Gospel.

Yet in the midst of this there is the constant call of the Gospel, that “God was reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”  Moltmann puts this paradox well when he says:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

It is in this that Christians can fully be Easter People who live in a Good Friday world.  It is in living the paradox of Good Friday and Easter that we find just how God humbled himself for all people. In suffering the wrath of some incredibly religious people Jesus in the eloquent words of Paul the Apostle “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Phil 4:7-8) and in that God, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:18-19)

Yes this is what it means to be an Easter people living in a Good Friday World.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Musings on Lent and Holy Week…The Recovery of Joy in Doing Theology and Living

This has been an interesting time.  I began Lent with an actual desire to see some more spiritual progress in my life. By that I meant actually being able to slow down and take stock in order that I might continue what had begun with my Christmas miracle.  Last year I was still in a mess but Lent was a time that I found a local church home in the Hampton Roads area, St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. While I was not doing well it was a beginning.

This year Lent took an unexpected turn of events when on the 20th of February I was felled by a 7mm Kidney stone that pretty much put me down for almost a month, I returned to work on Saint Patrick’s Day.  That little stone stopped me cold and by chance, or some might say “God’s will” and allowed me to really think through a lot of what I believe as well as deepen my relationship with the Deity.  I found it strange to be down so hard but despite being in pretty much constant pain and unable to sleep well with pain medications just taking the edge off of the pain while making me loopy at times to be able to read and meditate on aspects of my faith as a Christian.  It was interesting as I came to integrate faith, theology and life and for the first time in many years actually began to write serious theology again.

The time was interesting from reminiscing about my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, thoughts on baseball and my dad, a number of articles dealing Glenn Beck and his attacks on churches and Christians that were opposed to his political and economic ideology which ended up getting a bit heated at times when a few miscreants decided to take me on.  I was surprised by the amount of negative energy and even hatred displayed by some of those who attacked me to include physical threats by another blogger.  However I did not back down once and even still tried to remain gracious to those who were critics, for the most part with the exception of the aforementioned blogger I was able to do so.

The latter part of Lent and most of Holy Week included articles about how life under the Cross impacts life in both an individual and corporate manner.  For the first time in years I was doing serious theology again.  This was very good because for the past 6 years I have been focused on doing a lot of academic work in history and military theory where I completed a Masters of Arts in Military History as well as the Marine Corps Command and Staff College which actually helped me become a better writer and researcher than I was in years past. The extra work as well as my tour in Iraq with our advisers and time at the Jordanian Army and UN Peace Operations Training Center gave me an academic depth as well as breadth that I lacked in seminary and in my early years as a priest. The fact that I had also gone through a terrible two years of psychological, physical and spiritual crisis returning from Iraq where much changed in my life.  That time was somewhat like what Saint John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” where it seemed that God himself had turned his back on me.  This tied me back in to my seminary training and theological background of Luther’s theology of the Cross and reengaged me with the writings of Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Kung and Alistair McGrath.  Having gone through a period where I felt abandoned by God, the Church and many of my peers in ministry I gained a new appreciation for the theology of the Cross as something that made sense of life.  It was not as Luther called scholastic theology a “theology of glory” but a theology of reality in a broken world which I had now experienced hopelessness as something more than a theological or psychological concept. All of this combined during Lent to force me back to my theological roots.

The last week of Lent and Holy Week saw me return to some topics that have been important to me including returning to my journey in Iraq which I had not added to since last fall and a return to baseball.  I also found time to go back to write about some darkly humorous events of my Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital and a couple of somewhat silly articles.

Life which had begun to return at Christmas came back through Lent to include the spiritual, psychological and physical.  I was able to come off of the “fat boy program” last week, recover from the Kidney stone and experience renewal and community.  To top things off my sense of humor and self-confidence has returned.  All in it was a rather eventful Lent and Holy Week in ways that I did not anticipate and ways that have helped me as of last week declare myself “back in commission.”

All in all I have gained a new found appreciation of God’s grace and mercy as well as an appreciation of friends of all kinds.  The understanding that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:17-19) has found new meaning as I rediscovered the practical applications of what Bonhoeffer wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

Since I am one of these kinds of rough cut human beings that Bonhoeffer talked about I have a propensity to enjoy fellowship with similar people.  I am certainly not perfect and sometimes my actions disappoint some of my more religious friends.  In a certain ironic twist I had a verbal altercation at Gordon Biersch late on Good Friday evening when Judy and I went in for a light meal and a beer. While attempting to take a seat I was threatened by a drunk and I refused to back down or shrink away getting back in his face using certain coarse language to get him to back down. It is funny how having been held up at gunpoint and shot at in combat will influence the fight or flight reaction in the direction fight even for a miscreant priest.  If the guy had actually tried anything big Randy and about five other Stein Club members were about to come over the bar to protect “their padre.” So I know that I miss the ideal of the “theologians of glory” and those who find such human faults as unworthy of God’s grace.

Even so joy has returned to my life admittedly part of this has to be the fact that Baseball season’s opening night coincided with Easter.  Luther said “It is pleasing to God whenever thou rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart” and I heartily agree.  It is good to have joy back in my life as Karl Barth said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude” and “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” The joy and laughter has even made to writing of theology an experience of God’s grace as Barth also said “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” To such theologians and preachers who have a joyless life heaven must be a tedious place and like Luther I would have to say “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” Thank God for his grace that enables flawed people like me to even have a chance and at the same time to experience that grace in joy and laughter.

So to all of my readers and friends who have walked through Lent and Holy Week with me I wish you all the best. I pray that if you at experiencing hard times that you will experience the grace, love and mercy of God and that joy and laughter will again be part of your life.

Peace and love,

Padre Steve+

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Going to War: A Reflection so Far, Memories, PTSD and hopes and fears Past and Present

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As I have been writing of my experience in Iraq it is amazing to me the amount of emotions that I have experienced.  It is strange to feel like I am back there as I write.  I know that this is necessary but at times it is unnerving especially as I talk to friends who are going through much the same experience that I had coming home and sometimes worse.  I have been in e-mail contact with a friend from a NATO ally who has done a couple of tours in Afghanistan.  I can really feel for him as he is in a smaller military with a lot few resources that the Americans to deal with PTSD and other maladies from this war which seems to drag on without end.  Another friend on the West Coast has been dealing with the ravages of both PTSD and TBI and another Army Chaplain friend who has 2 Bronze Stars to his credit deals with PTSD as well as a very rare and eventually fatal lung and brachia condition.  Friends from my medical center are being deployed, I’ve been told that I am too valuable and needed where I am to deploy.  I do understand that at the same time deep in my heart I want to be with my friends from my ICU as they go to war.

The emotions took a big turn as I actually started writing about being in Iraq, beginning with the C-17 ride in to Baghdad.  In some sense the mirrored what I was going through two years ago.  It kind of came to a head the other night when I wrote about the rocket that went over my head at Camp Victory while waiting for my ride to head to the Camp Liberty heliport.  Then there was the flight to Fallujah and I can remember that flight.  I have never really liked flying in general and ancient helicopters in particular. Thinking that many of the CH-46s that I flew in while in Iraq had been in service in the Vietnam era was none too comforting.  They were almost as old as me.  Marine Helicopters are notorious for hydraulic fluid leaks.  The old joke goes” “How do you know when a Marine helicopter is low on hydraulic fluid?”  “When it stops leaking” is not entirely in jest.  I guess you can say that most of my career flying rotary wing aircraft in the Army and Navy has been just this side of terrifying.  I manage to survive every time but it takes forever to come back down from the anxiety of the preparation for and actual flights themselves it is no wonder that I still have problems sleeping and going on alert any time I hear a helicopter overhead.

Faith at times is an ongoing struggle. While I believe I question God more, especially when I see little kids suffering or read about young men and women killed in action or maimed by combat.  I find that I am less compassionate toward those who have not deployed who make suicide gestures and screw with their friends and families and then blow off help.  It angers me that their narcissism takes time and resources away from people who have been in the shit who need help and have to wait to get help.  I also find that religious people who have trite answers for everything really annoy me, especially those that are constantly talking about “spiritual warfare” when they have no clue about war, suffering and death. They are what Luther called the “theologians of glory” and they have no real answers, just platitudes that work fine until a real crisis comes.  Despite this I believe somehow in the God who is willing to be with me in the middle of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and at the foot of the Cross.

One of the things that tears at me now is the deep division in the United States as the obviously enlightened zealots of the extreme right and left push their agendas so hard that it seems impossible to find and amicable solution.  I wonder if we have entered “Weimar America.”  I guess I can understand how the moderates of the conservatives and socialists in Germany were ground to dust beneath the anvil of the Communists and hammer of the National Socialists in the later years of the Weimar Republic.  I really understand the military men who found both alternatives distasteful and tried in vain to seek the middle ground and maybe restore some sanity to the country.  That article is yet to be written.  I think I will call it “Weimar America?”  What really gets me is that both the right and left have dropped all pretense of civility and are now engaging in physical altercations at political meetings or “town hall” meetings and some have even be brandishing automatic weapons near venues where the President is speaking.  I have seen the results of this type of no-quarter politics in the Balkans and in Iraq.  I wonder what the hell all these demigods on both sides are thinking and if they in their devotion to their alleged “principles” would attempt “to destroy the country in order to save it.”   I have become ashamed of the leadership of both political parties as well as the special interest groups that drive the agendas of both extremes, especially as in the case of some who use the Christian faith to justify their actions.  When I see these people in action my anxiety level often returns to what it was in Iraq and on my return.  I can honestly say that the people on the extremes make me fear for my country.  I feel that they are pushing us to the abyss and that I can’t do a damned thing to stop it.  I’ve matured enough to know it is not simply the fault of one side or the other; as both are at fault and it seems that the most extreme on both sides have actually been wanting this to happen, at least from my viewpoint as a passionate moderate.

I have come to realize that my true countrymen are those that I have served with to defend this country and protect others abroad, especially as the insanity continues to spread.  Though I struggle and have to deal with emotions as if they were brand new every day just as I think that I am getting better I know that I have to keep going.  I owe it to my brothers and sisters from the current war and wars such as Vietnam.  Sometimes I wonder if all of us PTSD afflicted vets are the only sane people in the country. We are a brotherhood.  “We we happy few, we band of brothers.”

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I’m glad that I have friends, especially vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and Vietnam.  Limey and Barney with the Hue City Vets, Ray and Charlie the Vietnam Veteran of America brothers who man the beer stand on the concourse behind home plate, and so many others like my trusty assistant Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and sane in Iraq.

In the middle of all of this I grieve for my Vietnam Vet and retired Navy Chief dad who wastes away in a nursing home with end stage Alzheimer’s which according to his doctor should have killed him months ago.

I’d better stop while I’m ahead.  I need to catch myself, maybe have a beer and focus on some baseball for a while before I get ready for work.  I have duty tomorrow and I expect that I will be busy the next couple of days.  I hope when I get off Wednesday afternoon that I will be able to see the Tides play.  I can use the view of the diamond at Harbor Park that helps calm my soul about now. Maybe between no and then I can get in with my buddy Elmer the Shrink.

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Pray for me a sinner,

Peace, Steve+

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Love Poverty and War…Suffering and Death… Christian Theology meets Reality in the Intersections of Life

“An antique saying has it that a man’s life is incomplete unless or until he has tasted love, poverty, and war.”  Christopher Hitchens

“You have not done Christian Theology until you have dealt with suffering and death” Yandall Woodfin

I deal with life in the intersection where theology has to deal with uncomfortable and often troubling questions.  When I first heard my Philosophy of Religion Professor at Southwestern Baptist make the statement that “you have not done Christian Theology until you have dealt with suffering and death” I was somewhat offended.  This was back in 1989 when I was still somewhat idealistic and believed what really popular preachers on radio and mega-churches said.  Now I can never say that I was completely in agreement with the “name it claim it, grab it stab it, God owes me and will bless me because I did…” pop-theology of the theological lightweights masquerading as teachers, preachers and prophets.  While I did not espouse it the view was prevalent in the churches that I was part of, in fact I choose Southwestern Baptist as a school because it did not tow that party line.  I just never expected my professors across the board in the School of Theology to be as nuanced and balanced as Dr. Woodfin and the others who helped give me my theological formation.

In seminary I developed a very good theological understanding and life hermeneutic that was far closer to Anglicanism or the reformers of the Second Vatican Council.  In fact it was theologians like Hans Kung, Yves Congar and Alistair McGrath as well as Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg who helped me in that.  Additionally the writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer, Emil Brunner and Henri Nouwen were influential as I developed my theological and spiritual life.  I was also thrust into the world of the Ante-Nicene Fathers of the Church, spending a semester of Systematic Theology studying and writing about Polycarp of Smyrna.  It was studying these contemporary theologians as well as the Church Fathers that I discovered Christian Theology at the intersection and it was Dr. Woodfin’s remark that caused me to really question the modern “theologians of glory.”  It is plainly obvious that this was in the day before the Baptist Taliban under Mullah Paige Patterson took the place over.  That was the time when it was a world class seminary and not just a pretty good Bible school.

It was the fact that even though I was in seminary life was really sucky.  Nothing went right.  Instead of the obvious “blessing of God” it seemed that we were cursed.  We had lost our home, cars, and were destitute.  I was working two and three jobs while Judy was sick and unable to work.  We lived in a hell hole on the east side of Fort Worth Texas, frequently featured on the TV show COPS.   One night in desperation I called the Terrible Blonde Network (TBN) for prayer.  For my trouble I was told that it was obvious that God was not calling me to ministry otherwise he would be blessing us.  That was a watershed experience and I rejected that idea on the spot.  It made me mad as hell that a well meaning but ignorant volunteer prayer partner would judge me in such a way.  When I went to work later at a TV ministry doing counseling, especially to broken pastors I never forgot that experience.  I realized that what the lady said and what many people that I knew espoused was God-babble bullshit.  The pastors that I talked to every week were suffering, often at the hands of the alleged people of God and even other ministers.  It was obscene.

So anyway, back to the subject of this article…yes I chased a rabbit there and it was intentional.  I had a New Testament Professor whose “rabbits” were often pastoral and theological gems.  That may not be a gem but it was a rabbit worth chasing.

Hitchens, a pretty strident atheist has some pretty good observations about how some religious people including modern Christian icons have been pretty poor examples.  Now he can be biased but his bias is balanced by the Orthodoxy espoused by his brother Peter.  Hitchens’ comment based on the writings of antiquity is quite true.  Until a man or for that matter a woman has experience love, poverty and war their life experience is incomplete.  As a personal testimony, I can say “AMEN!” I know this to be true.  I am married to the love of my life and our marriage has endured suffering, sickness, death, poverty and war.  We have in baseball terminology “hit for the cycle.”  While I have understood this I had never seen it in writing until I saw Hitchens’ book.  The theme of love, poverty and war is rich in ancient writings including the Bible.  It is also thematic in many cultural rituals around the world.  The warrior who loves his family endures poverty; usually famine or plague induced and then goes out to fight invaders.  If they win they come home to their loved ones victors who have protected home and hearth.  It is much like the movie Braveheart where William Wallace leads a campaign against the English who have invaded Scotland.  If they lose, there is the strong possibility that they will be slaughtered and their families enslaved.  The annals of the Punic Wars are rich in this theme as is the life of King David who knows love, poverty based on being a fugitive on more than one occasion and his life as a warrior.

I think this is true in the modern era as well.  Western culture based on consumerism and material wealth has been insulated from the depths of abject poverty, one only need place a poverty and famine stricken resident of almost any third world country who is deposited in a poor American city or town and ask him if he sees poverty.  If he does it will not be material poverty but one where love and community are missing.  If he goes up the street to the well off part of town he may be dazzled by the opulence but appalled by the loneliness of many people.  Western nations following the end of the Second World War and the recovery from it have not known the depths of poverty.  This may be changing now unless we can pull our economy out of the abyss that it seems perched upon, but even still at least so far the last couple of generations in the west have not known poverty as a whole.

Likewise the question of the experience of war for the modern person is one that is not experiential.  War in the west is now fought largely by military professionals while most of the nation’s population lives in the shadow and protection of their military prowess.  At one time with the draft war was experienced by all parts of the population in the west.  Today it is not and with that lack of experience there is a void, men and women have not discovered either how to live for something or die for something bigger than themselves.  One of the things that chafes my hide is when I hear ministers who have never served a day in uniform don a set of BDUs or Dessert Camouflage and preach a sermon on spiritual warfare. Sorry, that is a sham and the big TV guys who have done this should apologize to men and women who have been in combat and in harm’s way.  I once had a bishop in my church, who is no longer in his communion do an article about spiritual warfare trying to apply “principles” of Carl Von Clausewitz about war without ever really reading or understanding Clausewitz.  The treasure of Clausewitz is in his “principles” but in his understanding of the human condition brought about by his Lutheran faith, the Enlightenment and his experience of Prussia’s defeat and occupation by Napoleon followed by her recovery.  I was appalled by what my ex-bishop wrote and embarrassed for the church should any real soldier or military leader pick it up and read it.  Things like these show how little many religious leaders, or for that matter political leaders understand the human condition, life, love and war.

Dr. Woodfin was more right right than about anyone I have ever heard when he that we have not done Christian Theology until we have dealt with suffering and death. When you see innocents killed, children suffering from famine, war and disease.  When you have seen the bodies of young men and women who have died senseless deaths and when you have looked at a mother who has lost a child you begin to understand.  You begin to see the Cross.  An innocent man executed, a guilty man go free.  When you see friends and companions abandon their teacher and friend, a governor who knows a man is innocent be put to a brutal and agonizing death,  and a mother looking up at a cross where her son hangs and cries “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” When you see these things you have to deal with the reality of where the Christian faith intersects the cold reality of our world.  It is as Alistair McGrath calls it, “life under the cross.”

I dare any of our modern digital era “theologians of glory” to enter this world, but most will not.  In fact they will continue to sell the sad sack of theological excrement that they call the Gospel to adoring crowds who will eventually discover that they have been sold a lie.  Many leave the faith while others take their place looking for “their” promised miracle, “their” blessing and their health, wealth and fortune.  Like the Catholic indulgence sellers of Martin Luther’s era, such “ministers” are blight on the Christian faith and for all of their “success” power and popularity have done more harm to the faith than benefit.  John Tetzel, Luther’s protagonist would tell people when collecting indulgences “A penny in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”  Today’s modern peddlers of pious poop promise “your prosperity grows when into our ministry you sow” or a “vow you make today God is bound to repay.”

Having seen this in real life when people buy the lie and end up devastated when “God” doesn’t come through for them, or when a well meaning but ignorant person tells them some horse shit about how God is not blessing them because….I want to scream.  I once had a pastor in a large evangelical and charismatic church which believed in “signs and wonders” tell the congregation about a conversation that he had with a parishioner who had been in the hospital and not been visited by him or the staff.  The parishioner, who gave a sizable amount of money to the church asked” “How sick do I have to be to get a hospital visit from you?”  The pastor, a nice guy laughed as he recounted his response.  “You don’t want to be that sick.”  The congregation laughed and I about cried as I was immersed in daily tragedy and trauma and Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.  I knew too many people be abandoned by their pastors in a city consumed with powerful pastors as churches to believe that they were a priority for those suffering.

The truth is that many pastors and for that matter many people want to avoid dealing with suffering and death at any cost. Whole industries are built around the worship of youth and beauty and a culture, including the churches lift their heads to the sky for God’s blessing while avoiding the suffering around them.  There are pastors and parishioners who by the boatload have been thrown from the “Barque of the Church” because they either failed or did not have enough “faith”

Such is not the Gospel nor is it Christian in any way shape or form.  It is no wonder that so many have abandoned the faith when all they see on TV are the modern digital theologians of glory who bask in fame and fortune while adding to the rejection, alienation and despair of those who believed them to actually be telling the truth.

Love, poverty and war, suffering and death, where the Christian faith meets these in the intersection is where new life can begin for it is only through the agony of the Cross that we know the resurrection.

Peace, Steve+

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