Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Neo-Gnostic Fun

I meet with a few protestant pastors involved in inner city work every couple of weeks for a time to pray and hang out. Most of the guys are pretty much fundamentalist and more or less charismatic. It's cool, though. I understand the fundamentalist mindset. It basically merges rationalism with Biblical inerrancy. The Bible is true, both in principle and in historical facts and therefore must make sense in our finite little brains. I personally think it is slightly ridiculous and I am not even going to get into why I think that this mode of thought actually takes less faith than a less rationalistic Biblical understanding.

I also get the whole charismatic thing. I believe God heals people. I've seen it, been involved in it and have no doubts about the real and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have seen the different gifts in action and fully believe that they are and should be a normal part of the Christian life.

I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend though. Many times when you mix fundamentalism and charismaticism, you get a weird blend of neo-gnosticism. It is almost a hyper glorification of the Spiritual and a degradation of the physical or temporal. If the Spirit is good then the flesh is bad.... which is true, but they assign the concept of "flesh" to be anything physical. This is an ignorant theological mistake that reflect a distinctive lack of study. Flesh is often the sin nature, especially in Paul's writings. There are way too many scriptures about this to get into it now, but maybe someday....

With out getting into this in depth, I just want to state how much I appreciate the Catholic stand on creation. Creation is good. Life is good. Pleasure is good. All of these things were created by God for our benefit and to draw us close to him. There is a call to responsibility and maturity in these things, but they are not bad. So liberating...... and people talk about Catholic guilt. They should hang out with some fundamentalists!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


The last RCIA class dealt with some key concepts of the Catholic church. It was pretty good and reinforced everything that I had studies leading up to this whole process. The class started out with a brief discussion on theology, pre and post Vatican II.

It was stated that pre-Vatican II, theology was limited to intellectual, European, males. Post-Vatican II saw the focus of theology shift towards a more open and experiential based focus. It shifted from the ivory halls of European academia to the dusty roads of Latin America and Africa. While I cannot and will not argue the shift in Catholic theological thought, I can and will weigh in on the concept of theology and the formation of it in the modern context.

The first thing that came to mind during the class was the question of whether or not theology is, at its core, intellectual or experiential. The obvious answer to that question is it is both and neither exclusively. The very core nature of theology is not the dissection of Biblical principles, passages, or even general concepts of the Divine. What theology is, in it's most pure and simple form, is the skeletal frame on which our religious and spiritual lives are built upon. It is foundational to our concept of who God is and how we relate to him. Theology is not something that academics dutifully guard, it is an exercise that all people engage in... consciously or not.

The second place my wandering mind drifted to was questioning whether or not experience should change theology. I believe it can and should. however, theological truths should never be based solely, or even principally upon experience. Experience relies on perception. Perception is subjective and liable to misinterpretation and cultural biases. True theology, right theology does not change according to culture or current trends. Experience enriches our theological concepts and current trends and cultural streams broaden our understanding of how truth is played out, but theology is founded and grounded on something much more substantial. Good theology, at least from a Christian view, must be founded upon scripture and tradition. We have been handed down a great heritage.

We do ourselves a disservice to ignore those who have come before and show ourselves to be arrogant and ignorant by thinking we have latched on to some great hidden truth that has been missed by 2,000 years of faithful men and women. We are all theologians in one form or fashion. We ought, therefor to be at least somewhat educated and open to learn from the past and value even the mistakes of those who came before.

And that had what to do with RCIA?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Eat the rich

Tuesday morning at 6:15, which is unbearably early, I had a meeting with a friend and businessman who is has a deep commitment to the poor and to justice. Directly after that, I had a prayer meeting with a bunch of guys involved with, or leading, different urban ministries. By the time all of it was finished, it was noon. It was a long morning.

The first meeting was really good. The prayer was revitalizing and deeply spiritual. It was a good morning. The thing that stood out about it was what happened right before I left the prayer meeting. We had wrapped up and a pastor just kind of off hand asked if anyone had anything else. I'm sitting there in this room with a diverse cross section of men... a few straight laced white guys, a couple of ex-vatos, an Indian minister, an asian ex-gang member, a Salvadoran immigrant, and I had an epiphony.

I don't often have times of intense personal genuflection and clarity, but I had one in that room. I realized that I have been harboring deep resentment and a marked lack of grace for rich people. I tend to not like them very much. Not because they have money or nice things, but because in them I have often witnessed an arrogant mentality that views those who have as better than those who have not. Plus, It pisses me off that people can be so obscenely wealthy and give so very little to those assisting the poor and needy. Freakin' greedy, self serving, rich people.

At the end of spending an hour in the presence of God I suppose He decided that I needed to confess this prejudice to those in the room. I did, and when I did I was struck by a deep compassion for those who take pride in their own wealth. I was reminded that Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdosm of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. I remembered that over and over the Bible teaches that God has mercy on the poor and has favor for the oppressed. I was reminded that those poor folksI feel especialy burdened for are dear to God's heart. I was reminded that I was being a jack-ass in my attitude towards the affluent.

In Light of this, I was shown that it is an act of love and compassion towards the rich to help them to see the rewards in giving and serving. It is humbling for them and softens their hearts. It teaches them compassion and allows them to listen for the voice of God. I need to have mercy and love the rich, because often they are just as lost as thehomeless crackhead... they just smell better. I shared this with the men around me and asked God to help us to look upon the materialy wealthy with the same compassionate eyes that we view the poor. As I did I recognised that that message was not just for me, but for quite a few of the guys around me. We had begun to get proud of our poor folks and esentful of those we saw as indifferent towards thier plight. As people who strive to follow Christ, we can be proud of none of this, only compassionate towards all..... regardless of whether or not the drive a Mercades or a shopping cart.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Second

Last night was the second RCIA class at St. Rita's. We decided to go through this process at this particular church based on it's reputation for having a very strong and solid RCIA program. So far it has been pretty good... very Christ centered, very welcoming, and very community oriented. I am looking forward to the coming months of relationship building and getting connected.

What I am not looking forward to is going through the "basics of the faith." We had a taste of it last night and it was all I could do to stay awake. It is necessary to go through, necessary to teach, necessary for spiritual formation, but man is it dull.
I am probably in a bit of a unique position regarding all of this. Most likely, I am the only ordained protestant minister in our class, one of a couple who have a degree in theology, and probably the only one who has been a full time missionary and minister. Not that any of this makes a difference, it just means I have been so inundated with the basics of the faith (i.e. who is Jesus? what is the resurrection? what is baptism? etc...) that I can answer these questions in my sleep. It's what I have been trained to do and have been paid to do for almost 10 years. That is why when we joined the Episcopal church we got to skip all of their classes, well that and I was preaching at my church when the classes were held!

That makes this particular part of the RCIA process pretty boring.

I am looking forward to hearing the stories of the other folks in the class and listening to their questions and comments regarding these key aspects of the faith. I am sure that the Lord will teach me and speak to me through their words and experiences.... I'll just make sure to sit at the back of the class and not distract anyone else while I look at soccer scores on the phone during the lecture! Just like college. Gotta love it. I am also looking forward to the later months and retreats that are part of this process.

How the hell did I learn anything in school, anyway?

Christ have mercy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


So it has begun. After flirting with the thought of this since college, no...... before that.....since jail, waayyyyyy back, I have decided to join the mother church. Not just me, but CC as well. We have thought about it for a long time and prayed about it just as long. It seems to be the right time now.

Since becoming a Christian getting a degree in Bible from an evangelical college I have seen the Catholic church as both the Saint and Sinner of the church. She has been one of the most blatant examples and tools of selfish abuse, political ambition, and absolute greed the world has ever known. There is no excuse....she was pretty damn screwed up. As an immature person (and pissed off punk rocker) this was fuel for my absolute rejection of both Christianity and the concept of God. Through the years though, I have realized that any institution, any organization, any group of people will ultimately... given enough time... display the same behaviors as the Catholic church, no matter how well intentioned or Godly. Humans are fallible. Period. We are to blame, not the Church.

Studying the church fathers and the desert mystics taught me that there has always been a group of commited Christians who have always strived towards the fullness of Christ. They have held to the core thruths of the faith. They have loved God and their neighbor. They were Catholic.

I have little patience for pop-psychology Christian literature, but I thrive off of the Fathers. They are my mentors and they were Catholic. Good starting point. Through them I began to study, to learn. Through them I began this journey years ago..... let's see how it ends.