Nobody Asked My Opinion. But that Doesn’t Stop Me from Giving It.

Patheos has been running a debate among high-profile thinkers about Christian engagement in politics.

I am not in the league of the intellectual/social/pundit gravitas of the writers who have addressed this. Also, nobody has asked my opinion. But that doesn’t stop me from giving it.

Let me begin by saying that political Christianity as it has been practiced in America for the past four decades is heresy. It is based on the totally incorrect but implicit teaching from a lot of wing-nut preachers, religious leaders and religio-politicians that righteousness before God is to be found in how you vote and who you hate.

That is heretical. It is also anti-Christ. It teaches self-righteousness, encourages slander and leads people away from the cross, not to it. It is the astral twin of the same kind of co-option of the Christian moral voice that took place in Nazi Germany.

Political parties have “claimed” the Christian moral voice as their means to getting votes to gain power for themselves that they then use to allocate the budget and government favor to those who pay the parties’ bills. They have not delivered on any of their promises to the Christians who blindly voted in their column, and they will not. That was never their intention.

This heresy of a political christianity (little c) has done a great deal of harm to the moral voice of real Christianity at a pivotal time in the moral decline of our nation. It has also, as time has passed and people have begun to gag on its hypocrisies and obvious lies, declined in its vote-getting ability. This has happened at the same time that members of the public who are disgusted with political christianity and who have become diametrically opposed to it have reached a critical mass in key electoral states and can now be big players in the outcome of presidential elections.

In other words, political christianity has become something of a liability to the people who have used it to gain power for these last four decades, largely by virtue of the fact that it has diminished and tarnished real Christianity in the public eye to the point that real Christianity itself is becoming besieged in the larger culture.

To put it bluntly, the smart money is beginning to be on the anti-Jesus crowd and for this reason, the smart money is backpedalling on their aggressive “moral” stands, which were nothing more than political poses in the first place.

Since Christianity has spent so much of its moral capital in lending itself to the election of people who are nothing more than puppets of an amoral corporate conglomerate, it is floundering a bit.

What to do?

Should Christians (real Christians) withdraw from the pubic sphere, head for the hills and comfort one another around the hidden campfires of our faith? Should we drop all pretense of taking our beliefs into the court of public opinion? Should we stop taking a stand for the things we believe because those beliefs no longer resonate with large groups of very vocal people?

Should we get smart in the worldly sense and go along to get along, even if that means giving up on what has been basic Christian teaching for 2,000 years?

Should we, in short, tuck tail and run now that the pay-off has become a pay-back?

That is what a good many political christians who have capitalized on the naiveté of the earnest believers they led into this heresy decades ago are hoping. Shut up and leave us alone, they tell their befuddled flocks. We’ve got deals to do and this morality stuff is no longer helping us do them. It has become a liability we want to shuck.

The answer, at least so far as I’m concerned, is that yes, the political christians who were using real Christianity to gain power for themselves need to take off their lamb’s wool and be the wolves they always were. I also think that the many political preachers who’ve been teaching the heresy of redemption through politics to their flocks need to stand down. In fact, I think a lot of them need to leave the pulpit altogether and go into the wilderness to find their Lord.

Does this mean that I think that Christians should give up on the sanctity of human life and holy matrimony, or that they should stop being engaged with the world?

Absolutely not.

We are the light of the world and we need to be that light. That is true especially now when we are becoming besieged and battered by a culture that is (rightfully so) turning its back on the heresy of political christianity.

There is a difference between genuine belief and political expedience. This difference manifests itself in a number of ways, one of which is standing firm when things go wrong.

My advice to Christians is that they should not become cowards about their faith because people who were using Christianity for their own purposes have begun to desert the ship. That’s what rats do, you know. Let them do it.

But you stand firm.

Catholics are being challenged by a Pope who is deliberately and directly addressing this heresy of political christianity and calling us to take on the whole Gospel of Christ. Political christians and their phoney-baloney religious leaders have taught a shorn and neutered political gospel that they have mis-interpreted to fit the political fashion of one or the other of the two political parties for a long time now. They have many well-intentioned but deluded followers.

There are several generations of American Christians who have grown up being taught the heresy of political christianity as if it was real Christianity. When Pope Francis goes in your face with this heresy and teaches us the whole Gospel instead of a truncated corporatist version of it, these people are confounded and offended. Some — perhaps many — of them will not follow the Pope, but denounce him for his failure to validate their allegiance to the false gods of political christianity.

That is sad, and it rests entirely on the doorstep of the political christian leaders of the past decades. By that I mean the same exact christian leaders who are now trying to turn the political christian ship away from the very things they once trumpeted as “non-negotiable issues” for “serious” catholics, or, ‘serious” christians.

There is no reason for people to be dismayed or frightened by all this. Christ will prevail. All we have to do is follow Him and not some bogus political christian leader who is manipulating us to maintain his or her access to the political halls of power.

There is no better way to do this than to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church as they are elucidated by His Vicar, Pope Francis.

Should Christians be engaged in politics?

Absolutely.

We are the leaven, the light, the salt and the hope of this fallen world. Involvement in politics is not our mission, it is an expression of our fidelity to Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives, including the political. For those of us who have a calling to active involvement in politics, this expression becomes both more compelling and more fraught than it is for those who are called to live out their faith in other arenas.

But America is somewhat unique in that every citizen is to some extent a politician. Government of, by and for the people is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility. No American can shrug off their responsibility to vote according to what they think is best. If you are a Christian, then what you think is best will be in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. To that extent, every Christian is political.

Genuine Christian involvement in politics at any level must be indifferent to party loyalties and the various demagogues who try to exploit our faith. You cannot follow Christ and these bogus religious leaders with their bogus gospel both at the same time. They lead down entirely different paths.

As I said earlier, I believe that the best way to follow Christ in any endeavor, including the political, is to be faithful to the teachings of the Gospel as interpreted by the constant, 2,000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church.

We don’t need to re-invent the wheel or re-write the Gospels. We just need to be faithful to our call, which is always and forever, the Person of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis Dedicates 2015 to Consecrated Life

Pope Francis announced that 2015 will be dedicated to consecrated life.

His message to consecrated people is consistent with the message he has been delivering since his papacy began. He called them to “go out to frontiers, working first and foremost with people excluded from society … to avoid hypocrisy and clericalism and to develop a tender heart.”

This message is not just for the consecrated, but for all of us. It is a call to convert the world and to begin that work by following Christ in our own lives.

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Pope Francis Issues New Document. Calls for Missionary Church.

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis has issued a beautiful new document, called an Apostolic Exhortation, and a wonderful exhortation it is.

Needless to say, the popular press has already begun issuing their skewed interpretations of what he said.

I think the reasons for this constant re-writing of the Holy Father’s message is twofold. First, they are literally putting words in the pope’s mouth to advance their own social/political agendas. Second, the drive to pick out the most compelling headline and pull readers into their publication leads them to sensationalize Pope Francis’ statements.

I’m not going to write in detail about Evangelii Gaudium until after Thanksgiving. We’ve all got turkey on the brain right now. I’ve been steam cleaning and dusting and vacuuming. Then I’ve got to start preparing food for a small army of hungry family and friends.

That’s why I put the quote above. I can’t take the time to analyze the Holy Father’s statements until after Thanksgiving, but I can, and have, let him summarize himself.

The Holy Father did not, as one press report I’ve read claims, call for the dissolution of Vatican authority in the Church. What he did do was call each and every one of us to our universal Christian vocation of living for Christ and sharing the Gospel with the world. It’s a beautiful document that spoke to my heart as I read it.

He’s so right about what ails us and what we have to do to live out our vocation as Christian evangelists in this fallen world. Those of us who live in the post Christian West have our own unique challenges. Our first challenge — and it appears to be a tough one for most Christians — is to know and to believe that we live in a culture that is hostile to Christ and His message and to us as Christians. We have to choose this day whom we will serve. That choice has eternal consequences.

A lot of us don’t want to believe that uncomfortable fact. We don’t want to chose and make people mad at us by our choice. We want to slip by without incurring the wrath of the culture and still slide home to heaven after it’s all done.

We’d rather compromise our faith than face the wonderful fact that we are a new First Century generation, called to evangelize a libertine and openly anti-Christ culture. We have been entrusted with the gift of being able to stand up for Jesus and take a couple of verbal brickbats for him from our child-sacrficing, marriage-and-family-destroying, women-and-children-selling culture.

Our grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to stand for Him that we’ve got. They lived in the days of ez-pz faith in a country where saying you were a Christian opened doors instead of shutting them.

But we can stand for Jesus in a way that makes a difference. That is the challenge of, and the gift to, our generation.

Pope Francis is all about issuing that call to stop hiding our light and make a stand for Jesus. He is leading us to give up passively sitting in the pews and watching self-absorbed priests wave around incense and preach feel-good homilies that don’t address the human meat market world in which we live. We are, all of us, from the bishops on down, being challenged by a pope who sees the problem and knows that the solution is us and our fidelity to Christ.

The time for lukewarm ministers, politically correct bishops and social club laity is past. It is no longer a get out of jail free card to be a Christian. In fact, proclaiming your faith in Christ and the teachings of His Church will get you reviled, mocked and attacked.

Pope Francis has written a wonderful, much-needed document calling you and me, our bishops, priests and all the religious to our true vocation, which is proclaiming the Gospel of Christ by how we live, what we say, and what price we are willing to pay.

You can find Evangelii Gaudium: On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World here.

Book Review: Sex and the Vision Thing

To join the conversation on Sex and the Single Christian Girl, or to order a copy, go here

Our culture teaches young girls to look at themselves as meat. I could dress that up by using less harsh language, but the dressing-up would be a lie.

From the time they are babies wearing trollop fashions, to the days when they sit in sex education classes that push dangerous contraceptives on them, including the morning after pill, young girls are taught that their first mission in life is to be sexually available and sexually used.

There is some linguistic dressing up of this message. It is termed “liberation” and “women’s rights.” But it’s not. It’s about using social pressure to coerce young girls into sexual behavior that, based on what quite a number of them have told me, they don’t enjoy or find sexually satisfying. It is the old double standard, flipped over and made even more destructive.

Christian girls end up caught in a social and moral conundrum. On the one hand, they hear that sex outside of marriage is a sin. On the other hand, they hear that they have a “right” to use sex the same way that men use it.

This explanation degrades the girls, as well as the boys. Every one has a sex drive. Every one is more than their sex drive. People want things that hooking up not only can’t give, but that hooking up prevents. Things like self-worth, love, commitment, stability and emotional security.

Even Christian parents have fallen into the trap of stripping the security of  a stable home and consistent family interaction from their children’s lives. Divorce destroys basic trust and security in children. Shooting from one activity to the next like a pinball destroys family time and inner peace. I won’t even go into the tsunami of damage that drugs and alcoholism do to children.

It has reached the point that girls who grow up in a stable home with parents who give them love and attention are the ones who are out of step with the culture. They are the girls who seem odd and out of place.

When everyone else is talking trash and getting laid and doing drugs, they’re the wallflowers who spend time in their dorm rooms or at home on Friday nights, wondering what, if anything, it profits them to live lives of purity.

Sex and the Single Christian Girl is written from inside that specific experience for those girls who live it.

The author, Marion Jordan Ellis, lived the life of growing up Christian and then throwing purity over for the hook-up culture. She experienced a radical conversion to Christ and then spent over a decade as a Christian single woman living in purity in a world that disses purity. When she finally met the Christian man who became her husband, she faced the new challenge of maintaining her chastity until she said “I do.”

The thing that sustained her in those years of single chaste living, and that she didn’t have when she slid into the hook-up culture, was vision.

Mrs Ellis makes the important point that a laundry list of “Thou shalt nots” is not enough to give a person the strength they need to follow Christ in our post Christian culture. She applies this directly and specifically to the situation of, as the title says, Sex and the Christian Single Girl. But the idea is equally applicable to all Christian living in a world and society such as ours, that is aggressively hostile to Christian values.

We can’t stand up to the culture by being against it. We have to be for something, and that something must be fueled by a deep and abiding passion. The answer Mrs Ellis offers is not the right answer, it is the only answer.

We are, all of us, beloved Children of the living God. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him.

And we are worth more than the degrading behaviors that our culture teaches us are not only cool, but necessary and our “right.”

Hook-up sexuality is self-abuse.

It’s that simple.

Drug and alcohol abuse are a living death that, if they aren’t stopped, lead inevitably to a real death.

Divorce is ripping asunder the one flesh of soul and spirit that God has created in Holy Matrimony. It damages our children irrevocably, as well as impoverishing and grieving the husband and wife.

The answer to all this, is, as Mrs Ellis says, that vision thing. We do not see ourselves as the immortal beings of light that we truly are. We do not understand that we are made for eternity in heaven and that our every action in this life either adds to that future or it doesn’t.

Young women are worth more than the value our society has taught them to place on themselves. They are, first of all, Daughters of the King. They belong to Him and to themselves and, once they pass into adulthood, they are answerable to no one else. No one has the “right” to treat them as meat, including and most especially, themselves.

When I was little, I always knew, never doubted, that either one of my parents would die for me. I knew without a shadow or a flicker of doubt that my father would kill or die to protect me and that he would not hesitate about either one.

That is how parents feel and what they do. It is what our Father in heaven has done for us. When Christ hung on that cross at Calvary, that was God, dying to save each one of us. That is, as the Scriptures tell us, “the price” God paid for us.

Young women need to understand this about themselves and never forget it. Their salvation was bought at a great price that only a Father Who loved them would have paid. This culture teaches them that they are meat. But in truth and in fact, they are immortal beings of eternal light; daughters of the living God.

I recommend Sex and the Single Christian Girl to any young woman who is struggling with issues of chastity and self worth in this post Christian world. I also recommend it to parents of daughters who want to teach their girls how to live as the beautiful daughters of God that they are.

Archbishop Carey: Church of England ‘One Generation Away from Extinction’

“One generation away from extinction in Britain” is the phrase.

Lord George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, used it in a speech at the Shropshire Churches Conference.

The news stories I’ve read conflict as to whether he said that “Christianity is one generation away from extinction” or “The Church of England is one generation away from extinction.”

There are news stories with quotes around the phrases saying it both ways.

The point is still the same. Decades of blundering around, chasing the culture and trying to be politically correct rather than preaching Christ have taken their toll. Acceding to the monster of extreme secularism (which, when it’s carried to its most aggressive end is a form of tyranny that seeks to wipe out religious belief) has backed the church in England into such a tiny corner of insignificance that it can no longer behave as a church.

In an odd sort of way, this is exactly what I’m trying and failing to talk about when I keep calling for the leadership in the worldwide Catholic Church to stop talking to one another and begin talking to the laity and to use simple, direct language to do it. They must stop hiding behind mush-mouthed theology-speak and start communicating with the larger culture.

Lord Carey talks about a need for ministries for young people as a way to revitalize the Church of England. My advice is far simpler: Preach Christ and Him crucified.

When Church leaderships, whatever the denomination, fall in love with themselves and their access to the various halls of power, they have fallen for the first and most pernicious form of corruption Christianity can know. I see it in a small form at the Oklahoma legislature when I see religious leaders subvert the Gospel they claim to follow in order to cozy up to political power.

This form of corruption happens in both the right-wing and left-wing churches. It is done by both the Rs and the Ds, although I will say that the Ds are much kinder in how they treat “their” religious leaders who step out of line than what I’ve seen from the Rs. The point here is that I’ve seen religious leaders toss their religious leadership out the window in order to not lose their access to political power.

The Church — and by that I mean all denominations that make up the body of Christ — has become too much in love with the world and too addicted to sitting at the big table at the front of the room at political gatherings.

The reason the Church of England is foundering is that it has made too many accommodations of the Gospels of Christ to fit the various political and social fancies of the days through which it has passed. There is no reason to get up on a Sunday morning and go sit on a hard pew to hear the same social/political claptrap that you hear outside the Church. That is especially true when the social/political claptrap in church is spoken in a mumbly, sneering manner.

My family attended the Episcopalian Church (which is the American version of the Church of England) for several years. Our first vicar was a good man. When he left, the bishop put a replacement in who was, in my opinion, a charlatan. This man, who also taught at one of our universities, stood up in the pulpit and bragged about how he had destroyed the faith of a Southern Baptist student who had come to him for counseling in a time of doubt.

He preached that Christianity was just one faith among many and that the miracles in the Bible were lies and that most everything in the Scriptures was untrue. He didn’t believe in the trinity, the Virgin Birth or much of anything else.

Why would anyone continue to go to a church that preached this nonsense? These are not the words that lead to eternal life. This is the teaching of the evil one, wearing vestments.

This is, hopefully, an extreme example. But tepid faith and compromised Christianity deserve to die because they are not the words that lead to eternal life.

If you preach Christ and you don’t back down or run away when the resistance comes, people will begin to fill your pews.

The world is a butcher shop. Young people today are so damaged by the excesses of their parents with their divorces and obsessions about jobs and career and me, me, me lifestyles that vast numbers of them cannot marry and form families of their own. Their values are so degraded by the sex education and oppressive amoral training in relativism that they receive in the schools that they cannot see themselves or other human beings as children of God.

They are easy prey for any amoral, destructive teaching that comes down the road. They are ignorant of Christianity. When a young person asks, in all honesty, “Who is Jesus?” as a young person asked a friend of mine recently, you know that the culture is post Christian.

People are dying spiritually, our whole Western world is dying spiritually. This vast spiritual vacuum will be filled with something, and it will not, in the end, be atheism. That philosophy is too cold, hopeless and shallow to sustain a culture.

The question becomes what will fill the God-sized hole in the people today if the Church continues down its road of self-absorption and cowardly accommodation to its own demise?

The possibilities  are many, but the one true fact remains. Nothing and no one but Christ and Him crucified will suffice. Only Jesus Christ has the words that lead to eternal life. Our only hope as a culture and as individual people is the empty tomb.

People need Christ.

Let me say that again.

People need Christ.

They also need clergy who will stop pandering to the larger culture and preach Christ. The larger culture, which is increasingly dominated by the values of the pit, will react with anger to anyone who preaches Christ. The belittling, smearing and slandering will follow close on the heels of anyone who speaks for Jesus. That is no reason to stop doing it. It is confirmation of how badly it is needed.

The Church of England needs clergy who mean it. They don’t need ministries. They need faith. And courage. And conviction. And a willingness to live and die for Jesus.

Preach Christ.

The rest will follow.

From iOL News:

London – The Church of England is just “one generation away from extinction”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday.

Lord Carey laid the blame at the feet of Church leaders who he said should be “ashamed” of their failure to bring youngsters into their services.

His stark message was echoed by the Archbishop of York, who told the General Synod that compared to the need to attract new worshippers, “everything else is like re-arranging furniture when the house is on fire”.

The Most Reverend John Sentamu told the Synod – where leaders will debate how to persuade traditionalists to accept women bishops – that they spent too long “arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair”.

Lord Carey, who stepped down from Lambeth Palace in 2002, remains among the most high-profile campaigners for Christianity in the country. He said: “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are one generation away from extinction – if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future.”

The series of high-level warnings about a looming crisis comes at a time when Christian belief and the Church of England appear under attack on a number of fronts. Recent census figures have shown a decline of more than 10 percent in a decade in numbers of people who call themselves Christian, and the courts have rejected a series of pleas from Christians for respect from the law for their beliefs.

Last month, one of the most senior judges struck a blow. President of the Family Division Sir James Munby declared the courts are not Christian and “the days are past when the business of judges was the enforcement of morals or religious beliefs”.

Ministers – who ignored the Church of England’s objections to same-sex marriage – have gone so far as to threaten the autonomy of the Church of England by hinting that the government will intervene to force its hand if it cannot bring itself to approve the appointment of women bishops.

Lord Carey’s warning was delivered in a speech at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury as part of the Shropshire Churches Conference 2013.

Steve Jobs, Consubstantial and the Mass

Apple’s board fired Steve Jobs in the 1970s.

He went on to a company that ultimately gave us Toy Story and many other computer animated blockbuster films and another company that created what became Mac OSX.

In the meantime, Apple made a lot of money selling the Macintosh, which Steve Jobs had master-minded. When other companies, particularly Microsoft, caught up with Apple’s early competitive advantage and passed it by, Apple began to founder.

I was forced to use an Apple computer for desktop publishing in the mid 1990s, and it was dreadful. I could not wait to get back to my pc. The old Mac OS couldn’t do the job anymore. It was buggy and out of date.

Apple brought Steve Jobs back by buying his operating system from him. At the same time, they put him back in the company loop.

This video is the announcement of this move to bring Steve Jobs back. It begins with a totally ham-handed presentation by the man who was running Apple into the ground at that time, followed by a presentation by Steve Jobs explaining the new operating system. Jobs’ presentation is followed by more ham-handedness that ends in dragging an obviously disgusted Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak back on the stage for a final, underwhelming presentation.

It’s long, but it’s also a case study in the difference between pedestrian leadership and genius leadership. Jobs is clearly angry when he walks out on the stage. I would imagine he was embarrassed to be following such a bad act and angry about what Apple had devolved to.

How does this apply to the word “consubstantial” and the mass? It applies because Jesus deserves better than the pedestrian ugliness of the first presentation in this video. He deserves a liturgy that communicates clearly and is beautiful.

Making the mass ugly because of theological pretensions is a mistake. It is always a mistake. It is an everlasting mistake.

If you watch this video, you will see a dramatic demonstration of the power of simplicity in communication.

I keep hammering on the word consubstantial because it is so unforgivably ugly, awkward, unmelodius and downright insulting. It insults the laity with its high-handed obscurity, and it insults the mass, where heaven touches earth, with its ugliness.

I am not unhappy about or opposed to the changes in the liturgy. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Guarding the liturgy is one of the Church’s primary jobs. What bothers me is when the changes are a step down. The liturgy should be beautiful. It should soar and sing with our love for the God Who made us.

Consubstantial is like a brick on the prayer path of the mass that trips people and causes them to fall out of the rhythm of the worship and awe that leads them to the eucharist. People should not have to overcome the language of the mass. They should be uplifted by it.

My message to Church leadership as it is considering the new evangelization is to start speaking more directly and clearly. Talk to people instead of talking at them. You are communicating the greatest story ever told which tells the truth of the only Hope the world has ever had. Stop mumbling and talking to one another and speak out. Preach Christ.

Here’s the video.

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Billy Graham: God Can Change the Past

I respect Billy Graham. He’s the real deal.

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Christian Persecution and Conversion in Nigeria

Nigerian Christians have suffered a decade of murderous attacks from militant islamists, in particular the killer cult of Boko Haram. 

At the same time, Christianity has been growing. The Pentecostal movement is flourishing in Nigeria with all night prayer services drawing thousands of worshipers. 

The old saying is, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

Present-day martyrs for Christ are no exception to that. 

From PRI The World:

Credit: Rowan Moore Gerety

Under an open-air pavilion built to seat a million people, children sleep on mats spread out on the cobblestones while their parents enter their 6th consecutive hour of worship.

All-night prayer vigils are at the core of the country’s booming Pentecostal movement. Some churches draw worshippers in the hundreds of thousands.

At one church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Friday night vigils take place in what locals call an “auditorium.” It’s a covered pavilion the size of 87 football fields, and it’s not quite big enough. The church has already cleared ground for a bigger one. 

In fact, it’s something of a pattern: the church’s old pavilion was demolished a few years back, and now vendors have set up shop on the old foundation.

Once the service starts, all these people selling, they’ll close their shops and go inside the auditorium to listen to the word of God,” says Wale Akande, a volunteer who stands by the auditorium, welcoming visitors to the Holy Ghost Service in a fluorescent green vest.

The pavilion here was built in 2000 to seat a million people. It’s basically a corrugated rooftop. The ground below is paved with cobblestones and lined with thousands of crude wooden benches and plastic chairs. Akande says attendance is down tonight because of rain; the pavilion is only a third full.


The Big Duh of Pope Francis’ “Bombshell Quotes”

Jesus Christ was a revolutionary.

Not, mind you, the gun-toting, building-blowing-up, people-killing kind of revolutionary. If we would just pull the shades off our eyes, we’d see that killer revolutionaries are old hat, trite and not really all that unusual. People have been killing people since Cain and Abel.

Jesus was the kind of revolutionary who lights the spark of ideas that wind through the centuries, slowly elevating all of humankind. He was the counter-cultural, upside-down uber revolutionary of all time who taught us that the God who made everything everywhere loves us and knows all about us down to and including every single hair on our heads.

This attention to life and love is universal, it seems, since the same Jesus told us that not even a bird falls from the sky but that the God of everything, everywhere knows and takes note of it. This is the God Who looked at creation and said, “It is good.”

Jesus is a revolutionary today, just as much as He was in first century Palestine.

His Vicar, Pope Francis, has been speaking and teaching this same revolutionary message that His Master taught 2,000 years ago. He hasn’t changed the message. Pope Benedict taught the same Good News, as has every other Vicar of Christ. Despite their failings and weaknesses, not one of these men has ever departed from the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ to teach a false gospel of god made in our image.

For reasons that I think have a lot more to do with the Holy Spirit than those who are slavering over the Holy Father’s teachings would ever admit, this old wine of the Gospel has become new again in Pope Francis’ way of expressing and living it.

“Bombshell” is the word that pundits attach to comments he makes that are nothing more nor less than what the Church has taught from the beginning. I keep hearing about these “bombshell” comments from people who are offended or upset by them.

So, I’m going to go over them and try to explain why the only thing new about them is the simple fact that the revolutionary teachings of Jesus Christ are always new and always challenging. Following Him is not now and never has been for sissies.

Here are a few examples of statements the press has termed a ‘bombshell.’ Give them a look. You’ll see what I mean.

1. Who am I to judge?

What this statement is not:

Pope Francis’ said this in relation to a priest who is in a prominent Vatican position, and who had fallen into public sexual sin in his past. This particular priest also happens to be homosexual, so his sexual sin was with other men. The Pope simply said that if a man has repented and is trying to live his vows and the Church teachings, “Who am I to judge?’

This was not a statement that gay sex is ok. It was not a statement that it’s ok for priests to break their vows.

What this statement is:

It was an affirmation that we are all made new in Christ. I am the recipient of this same grace, as, if you will be honest, are you.

St Paul murdered Christians before he became the great apostle. St Peter denied he ever knew Christ and cursed His name before he became the first pope.

If a priest falls off the chastity wagon and then repents and lives his vows afterwards, how is that different from you and me? Who, as the pope said, are we to judge?

2. And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

What this is statement is not:

Pope Francis was not saying that all truth is equal and one “god” is as good as another. He was not saying that Jesus is just one among many Gods.

What this statement is:

The Pope was telling us that there is One God, that Jesus Christ is His son, and that this Jesus is Lord of all, including the Catholic Church and the Pope. The Church doesn’t own God. God owns the Church.

3. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.

What this statement is not:

The Pope is not saying that Church teaching is picayune and that we can ignore it.

What this statement is:

The Pope is saying “by grace you are saved and that not of yourself.” You can not earn heaven. Jesus Christ has saved you. We belong to Him, or we don’t. It’s our choice.

4. We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

What this statement is not:

It is not a repudiation of 2,000 years of Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life and holy matrimony. The Holy Father is not undoing what Jesus did at the Wedding of Cana. He is not saying that the early Christians were wrong when they condemned child sacrifice and abandoning disabled children and baby girls.

What it is:

The Holy Father is telling us that abortion and gay marriage are not the only sins against life and against God. As I sometimes jokingly say, you can’t claim, “I am anti-abortion, so that means I can rob all the banks I want.” We need to live out the whole Gospels in our Christian walk, not just one or two commandments.

5. It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.

I’m not even going to try to explain what this is not. It’s obvious what the Pope was saying to priests and nuns: Walk the walk.

It applies to the rest of us, too, which may be why some people get so upset about it.

Conversations with God

Prayer

Prayer is a conversation.

Prayer is an action.

Prayer is friendship, love, companionship and trust.

It is not a performance or a recipe you must follow to “get it right.”

I’ve read a trove of books and articles about prayer down through the years, all of them well-meaning, and none of them either wrong or right. The authors of these books and articles seek to give Christians instructions or a methodology for doing prayer right.

The most common advice is to avoid laundry-list prayers in which you just say “I want this. I want that.” as if He was your personal genie and prayer was the lamp. That’s good advice, by the way, for the reason that just listing your wants is not prayer at all for the simple reason that it’s not conversation. It is, at base, rude and presumptuous. How would you feel if the only time you heard from your kids is when they want something?

But the writers who give this advice usually try to help you out by giving you a formula to follow before you present your list of wants. Begin your prayers with another list, they tell you. List your thank-yous. Then move into a list of praises for the wonderment of God’s creation. Don’t forget to ask forgiveness for your sins. After all this, you can get back to the real reason for praying and trot out that list of wants.

The main problem with this advice is that it’s just another kind of clocking in. It is predicated on formulas found in the Old Testament (Think Abraham dickering with the angels over Sodom and Gomorrah) and also mirrors the formulas of many public worship services.

Even though it is based on legitimate foundations, when you go through it as you kneel beside your bed at night, it is not genuine. You may be following the recipe, but your heart is really only in the end piece where you ask for the things you want.

There is nothing wrong, in fact, there is a whole lot right with saying thank you to God for the blessings of your life. There is certainly nothing wrong with pondering His greatness. We all need to confess our sins and ask His forgiveness. It is wise to do this daily.

But you don’t need to go through this whole list of worship stuff in order to pray. In fact, practicing prayer in this way can lead to, well, practicing prayer instead of actually praying from the heart. If it’s a performance, God sees through it, even more clearly than you do — and if you will admit it, you see through it too.

Other people advise that you use a totally formulaic approach. The most common formula used by Catholics is the prayer-meditation of the Rosary. Protestants urge the laying on of hands and a sort of rotational prayer among friends. They also advise “claiming God’s promises” by quoting a verse of Scripture and telling God you are “claiming” His promise in that scripture.

I’m a big fan of the Rosary myself. Prayerfully meditating on the Gospels through the heart of Mary is a powerful experience. I’ve also had groups of people gather around me, lay their hands on me and take turns praying for me. That’s an incredibly powerful experience, as well.

I am, however, not so much in favor of the “claiming God’s promises” stuff. The prayers I’ve heard that were done in this way sounded more like an attempt to bully God than worship Him. But maybe I just haven’t heard it done right. I’ll leave that to people who know more about it.

Still other authors advise that you meditate on a painting or crucifix to focus your mind while you pray. There are those who tell you to set aside a place in your home for your prayers.

None of this is bad advice in itself — except perhaps for the effrontery of reminding God of His “promises” like a lawyer carping at a witness on the stand — and all of it can have positive applications.

However, these various pieces of advice and formula can leave the average Christian with tongue-tied brains where prayer is concerned.

I know.

I’ve been there.

I never could get into the first, say thank you, then praise god, then confess your sins, then ask for what you want formula. I tried it a couple of times, and it was dead as dirt for me. God and I both knew I had reduced Him to a little g god of doing it right instead of the big God Who is a living being. So I chucked that bit of advice almost as soon as I considered it.

However, I did drink deeply of the notion that I should not just ask God for things. Unfortunately for me, this led to a deeper and almost immediate shut down of praying altogether. Somehow I morphed this into an admonition not to bother God with my itty bitty stuff.

I almost quit praying for a time, simply because I’d read too many books telling me all the right ways to pray, and the sum total of them was to make me feel that my little prayers were unworthy.

I reached the point that I never asked God for my wants, stopped talking to Him about my hurts and fears and pits and stains, aches and scars. I felt that all this stuff of my life was unworthy of Him and since it was just about everything I had going on in my mind, I didn’t have anything much to say.

When I first found Christ, I chattered to Him almost like a stream of consciousness prayer. I would fall asleep at night, just talking to the Lord about whatever was in my mind. But somewhere along the line, I become too sophisticated for that. I began to try to pray “right” and in the process, I found myself praying to a wall instead of entering into conversation with my heavenly Father.

My prayers got drier the more I censured them. When I read enough books to become convinced that it was wrong for me to go to Him with my picayune wants and needs, that I should only approach God with problems that were worthy of God, my prayers verged into formulaic deadness.

I stopped praying except in church because I didn’t feel that my prayers were worthy to be prayed.

It was a strange time of living faith without conversation with the One in Whom I had such faith.

In all this time, God never left me. His presence was right there with me, but He was quiet, letting me bumble around in my unworthiness.

What saved me was, ironically enough, a prayer. I had a personal problem, a family problem, that was driving me up one side of the proverbial wall and back down the other side and then back up again. It was one of those things I couldn’t solve and didn’t think I could bear. I just burst out saying, “Lord, I know I’m not supposed to talk to you about this, but it is more than I can handle.”

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I realized as I was praying my desperation prayer about my desperate little problem that I had it all wrong. I was supposed to be talking to Him about these “little” things that make up my life. Because …

My prayers are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.

I are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.

That is the point of Calvary. The cross on which Jesus died is the bridge. We walk through Calvary onto the cross and into God’s loving arms. Not because we are “worthy” but because we are loved.

If you love God, you will find yourself thanking Him spontaneously. When you look into your baby’s eyes. When you finally get that new house. When you find a job. When you lie down at night in a comfortable bed. You’ll say “Thank you” from your grateful heart without any formalities.

If you love God, you will find your awe of His greatness spontaneously. When you look up at the night sky. Or down the tube of a microscope. When you see your child on an ultrasound or stand on a ship and watch a whale break through the water, glistening in the sunlight. You’ll know that He is God.

There is no reason to turn your prayers into formal worship sessions. Prayer is talk. Not God talk. But talking with God, your heavenly Father, Who loves you beyond your ability to comprehend.

It’s not only ok to chatter to God the way you did to your parents as a small child, it’s good. Prayer is putting your hand in His hand and walking through life beside Him.

I still pray the Rosary, by the way. I also pray a prayer of consecration to Our Lady. I do not ever refuse to have people lay hands on me and pray for me. Every single one of these things blesses and sustains me.

Real prayer is conversation and these things are just another type of conversation.

Don’t worry about praying worthily. Just consider that the same God Who made everything, everywhere; Who holds all of existence in existence with a single thought, enjoys your conversation that same way you enjoy listening to the talk of your little children or, as in my case, my elderly mother.

Consider that miracle of miracles. And be grateful.

Then talk to Him from your heart.


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