Tag Archives: Theology

To Boldly Go…. Binge Watching Star Trek the Next Generation from the Beginning and Wondering About Possibilities not of This Earth

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I have always been what some would call a Trekkie. Ever since I was a young child watching Star Trek the Original Series I have been fascinated with space, other universes, galaxies, and other life that must exist beyond earth. As a Christian and theologian I have to admit that the possibilities of a non earthnocentric order fascinate me. Christians, especially pastors, and theologians love to talk about the attributes of God: his omniscience, his power, his omnipresence, ad infinitum, but instead of contemplating the unknown potentials of a universe that we know little about, our puny minds remained focused only on earth and ways in which to destroy it in order to ensure the Apocalypse arrives, I cannot do that.

While obviously as a Christian I have to live fully in this world, and in doing so bear witness of Jesus the Christ, fight for equality and human rights, and do my best to bear witness of the truth, that human beings can be among the most noble as well as debased beings that have ever existed. There are certainly examples in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to support both extremes, and theologians who those who support the total depravity of humanity, or an exalted view of humankind.

But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so succinctly noted:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them” 

The fact is, that we human beings are stuck in that uncomfortable middle, and to admit that is a step on the road to freedom. That is what I find so fascinating about Star Trek the Next Generation, it confronts human nature with the added dimension of the possibility, if we don’t destroy ourselves first, that we will meet others from other solar systems and galaxies.

In the finale of Star Trek the Next Generation, the being known as Q discusses that question with Captain Picard:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That*is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

I really do believe that being open to options that we never considered is both a part of the Christian life, as well as humanity in general.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am am open to answers that lie beyond my realm of sight and thought. There are times that I think that I was born 300 years too late for the Enlightenment and probably at least 300 years too soon for the world of Star Trek, I am caught in that uncomfortable middle that Bonhoeffer spoke of, but in the middle of the middle.

But for now I have 171 more episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation to go, then on to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Christmas Day Will Always be, Just as long as We have We” Everything I Know Really About Christmas comes from Peanuts and the Grinch

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a Priest, and I am actually a pretty learned theologian as well as a historian. I am probably a better historian than theologian, in fact on of my Deans at the Joint Forces Staff College said that I was “a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” But the fact is that as learned as I am of the theology of the Incarnation and how important that is to real Christian theology. The Incarnation not about creating some kind of Christian theocracy in order to usher in the Kingdom of God, instead it is about a God that chooses to become fully human, to be born of a woman, and to endure the death of a criminal, despised and rejected by the types of people that theocracy minded “Christian leaders” emulate in thought, word, and deed.

With that being said I will not bore you with an essay citing historical references, Scripture, or quotations of theologians, pastors, and historians much more learned, and for that matter probably better Christians than me. So, please, if you feel the need to criticize my theology, feel free, but please, have the decency to arrange to do that over a beer or your favorite tasty beverage later, don’t ruin your Christmas or mine to do that, there are plenty of other days to do just that take a deep breath whether you are a Christian Fundamentalist, a Traditionalist Catholic, a militant Atheist, or whatever.

But here’s the deal. The truth is when all is said and done I learned ever that I need to know about Christmas from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.

To me it is fascinating because Schulz, who brought us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts Gang for half a century was a Christian who battled depression and faith, yet his classic animated cartoon of Christmas which was released in 1965 has probably reached more people with the Christmas message than any great preacher of the past century or more.

The decision to include the speech by Linus was controversial, because of the expressly religious implications, by Schulz insisted that it be reatained.

I saw it for the first time when it was released in 1965, and now 53 years later it retains its freshness and innocence.

 Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!

Linus: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Likewise, I think that Dr. Seuss, who was Jewish, may very well have done the same in his story about the Grinch.

I think of the last part of the Grinch and think about these words:

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

I know, kind of simplistic and ecumenical. But I have learned so much about Christmas and the Incarnation from others, of course many are Christians, but I have also learned from Jews, Muslims, and others. So for all of my friends and readers I simply repeat the words of Dr Seuss. Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer… Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we…

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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It’s what You learn after You know it All that Count’s: Padre Steve’s Advice for those contemplating the Ordained Ministry

Yesterday evening I had a dear friend of our call me to ask me about serving as a spiritual director as she began to seriously explore the call to the Episcopal Priesthood. As a Navy chaplain and Army Chaplain before that I have had many young men and some young women approach me about spiritual direction or advice as they contemplated preparing for the ordained ministry. These men and women have come from many Christian traditions as well as some from non-Christian religions. I consider this to be a privilege especially because almost all come from traditions different formerly Anglo-Catholic and now Old Catholic tradition.  Thus I feel honored to be able to participant in each of these individuals journey.

I do not take this responsibility lightly; the journey that these men and women are embarking is often fraught with risk and often painful.  Thus I really try to listen to their story listening carefully to their individual experience of God as well as how that experience relates to life, other people and their faith community.  The reason I do this is because I have had so many friends be chewed up and their ministries ruined by unscrupulous people and uncaring religious organizations while attempting to follow what they feel is God’s will for their life.

Since I believe in truth in advertising I make no bones about what I believe but also respect and hold holy what people bring to me. Thus I am careful to listen to them and be as helpful as possible without pushing them in any direction.  I have seen too many people manipulate others when they are in such a state and the results are seldom good. Since I know I don’t have all the answers that such decisions should not be entered into quickly and without the input of the person’s own faith community.  So I encourage them to work with their local church or faith community as well as denomination and work to help them make those contacts.

This is important because people that feel called to ministry can be vulnerable to many unscrupulous people regardless of their faith group.  There are some groups that will gladly ordain people for a substantial financial remittance and continued financial servitude. Of course such organizations will provide an “ordination” certificate or a “license” to preach many times without ever having met the individual.  Some groups have “seminaries” which issue “Divinity” degrees. Unfortunately many of these “church” schools are unaccredited degree mills.  Most provide no real theological training or preparation for the demands of ministry. The ordination certificate may provide some covering to the aspiring minister so they can perform weddings and have an IRS 501.3.c tax exemption.  Some might get to pastor a church under the umbrella of the “ordaining” organization.  However many times the degree is not worth the paper that it is printed on and the ordination is no more than a means to extract money from them.  Unfortunately I have lost count of the ministers that I have met who have had this kind of experience.

Even worse are the times that well meaning and sincere people end up being spiritual and sometimes physically or sexually abused by those in spiritual authority. This happens across the theological spectrum and is not simply isolated in the “fly by night” ministries that operate on a “for prophet” basis. Many men that trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood over the past half century have recounted many horrible experiences of abuse at the hands of their superiors in major and minor seminaries and sometimes even after ordination.  Many of these cases are recounted in excruciating detail in the media and in court cases.

Thus when a man or woman approaches me for advice or even spiritual direction I am careful to know the responsibility that they place in my hands and am careful to hold their trust as if it were a baseball bat personally autographed by Babe Ruth or Willie Mays.  Some people might say as if were a Faberge Egg or the Pink Panther Diamond, but I know what is really valuable.

My advice to those that come to me is always given with great caution. Since I have a great amount of experience serving with people of many faiths in addition to my own unique spiritual pilgrimage I value those that I have worked with and their faith, some have even helped save me from myself.  One in man in particular helped save my career when I was a young Army Chaplain.  Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley, a chaplain from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints saved my military career when I really lost control of my temper at the Army Chaplain School. I could list many more that helped me through good times and bad, seminary professors and chaplains almost all of which were of different denominations than me. They were men and sometimes women who cared about me who held my faith holy and who interceded for me sometimes with people and often to God.

As such I am careful to do the same for those that seek my counsel regardless of their beliefs.  I am fortunate. I have seen a number of these people go on to successful careers as military chaplains or in civilian ministry within their denominations.  I have also advised those that like me had grown beyond their denominational background or ha a progressive shift in their beliefs that cause them to feel that they must move to a new denomination. In those cases I am extra careful because I never want to even give the appearance of prostylizing, or for those unfamiliar with the term stealing sheep from someone else’s flock.

My advice to people seeking to enter the ministry, especially the chaplain ministry can be boiled down to these points.

* Take your time to discern the call. Many people rush into ministry only to find that it is not for them and in the process often end up hurt and disillusioned.

* Rely on trusted advisors that are willing to spend the time and walk with you during the discernment process. Don’t rely on pastors or others that promise to support you but in reality are too busy to take the time.

* Don’t rely on “cheerleaders” who simply tell you what you want to hear, and there are a lot of these people out there.

* Find people in your denomination that have experience in the type of ministry that you feel called that are not from you local church who can be objective.

* Seek out people from other traditions who have experience in the type of ministry that you want to enter. Often the latter provide more objective advice than those close to you and by getting to know them you can also get to know the kind of people that you will work with in your desired field of ministry, especially if you want to serve as a chaplain.

* Try to attend a resident seminary. I admit that it is possible to get a good academic theological or Biblical education in non-resident or online programs provided that they are rigorous and accredited by a real accrediting agency with actual standards. There are numerous “accrediting” organizations that are simply fraudulent and many “Bible Schools and Seminaries” claim such accreditation.

* Find a program that actually works with you and your faith group to provide spiritual formation.  In fact the formation aspect is often lacking in many well accredited resident seminaries but is most often absent in non-resident or online programs.

* Find a spiritual director that will walk with you through your education and formation. Some denominations will help you in this but many smaller churches are either unable or unwilling to do so, particularly those from the Evangelical tradition which focuses more on preaching.

* Make sure that your academic program is balanced between Bible, Theology, Church History Pastoral Care, and Homiletics.  Practical courses like evangelism and program management change with the wind and are often more about the marketing and packaging of a product. I had a friend in seminary who claimed that his Master of Divinity had a shelf life of 5 years. Of course if you focus on transitory method driven courses you will have a dated education because someone else will come up with something new a few years from now. If you focus on the balance that I talk about your education will never become dated. In fact it is those can be built upon where the others, well you’ll find those books in what you give to Salvation Army or Goodwill in a few years.

* Take the time to reflect on what you learn and what you experience.

* Finally do the basics. Study your faith, its scriptures, theology and traditions. Pray and maintain relationships with fellow students as others preparing for ministry.

And when all is said and done remember that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

One more thing. you need to really love ministry and the people that you serve. If you are in it for money, fame or to make a name for yourself you will suffer shipwreck. If you don’t have love and joy nothing else I have said here will help you.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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