In using the word “Polemic”, I recently discovered that it’s not an everyday vocabulary word, at least not anymore. A Polemic is the case against, a strong written or verbal attack against something. We could start by complaining that the dictionary is inaccurate inasmuch as written documents are also verbal; word of mouth is oral hence the word orate which is not verbate albeit verbatim describes an exact word for word duplication, usually from an oration. So many complaints, so little time …
Alright, so what’s he on about now? A fair ask if ever there was one, since I’ve been absent for some time from the blogosphere. Let’s start with a story, shall we?
Life is an interesting adventure fraught with challenges and difficult decisions. I want to be helping others discover the beauty of ancient texts and the wisdom what we can learn from them, but have yet to find a path. In considering retirement in the next five years or so, this is one thing that I’d like to be doing, and I’d like to get started to smooth the transition away from work which will be very depressing given that I’ve been at it for 37 years and I’ve been in the work force for, can you believe it, 49 years. I started at age 10.
Since I am an autodidact in these matters, I have no credentials to be teaching and, in truth, I’m more of a museum curator and cheer leader than a professor – a mentor in studies not the source of the study as it were. That said, I can spin quite interesting tales that might pique some interest, but this post is not a resume. As you can imagine, opportunities to do what I seek are quite limited and would mainly be under the auspices of a church, if one dare ascribe auspices – a pagan practice – to a church, but then again, today’s world is not into linguistic details; the ancients were, by the way, and very much so.
I looked, and very quickly found that opportunities were scant to nil. Like many such things, it seemed that I’d have make my own opportunity, which lead to my post about whether or not this was a calling concluding that it was not. Still, I want to do this and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I found one organization that had this covered within their tent: the Roman Catholic church. I considered conversion, met with representatives, discussed my differences with their teachings, and, in the end and after a sign or two, decided to remain an unchurched Episcopalian for now. I have great fondness for the Catholic church and her teachings, and Catholicism offers authenticity, breadth, and depth that I find lacking in other denominations. But my own beliefs differ on a couple of key points, I’m arrogant, and I can’t resolve the ethical conundrum of advocating for things that one’s church stands against. Full rights and privileges for same sex couples is one of those points. That, too, is my main break with Anglicans. But that’s not what this post is about, it’s far more general, and there’s nothing wrong with those outstanding churches that’s not wrong everywhere else as well.
I really struggled, prayed, and listened to my soul during this period of reflection and discernment. I considered what I really believe, what I’ve learned, what I see in the world, where my heart leads, what my soul yearns for, and where God may be leading me.
It is from that period and thought that this polemic originates.
View on a drive
Most days, I drive from my home in Frisco, Texas – a suburb of Dallas, to my workplace in big D. It’s about a 30 mile drive mostly on tollways and expressways, 30 minutes on a good day, more than an hour on a bad one. Dallas is within the “bible belt”, and on my way I see many churches, large and small. Having been involved in facilities and some church budget activities, I have some idea of the cost of running these venues, and it ain’t cheap.
Staff, for all businesses including churches which are become businesses, are quite expensive, even with the horribly depressed wages and benefits that our society, and most Christians, see fit and proper to offer. Then of course there’s the electricity, the insurance, the maintenance, the grounds, all sorts of expenses making the total sustenance requirement for these many, many venues quite high, even though the tax man need not be paid. Most churches have mortgages, by the way. Moreover, some of these churches sport professional singers, professional musicians – one or two have their own orchestras, video equipment, sound stages, and so forth and so on. One such place, and there are many of this size, is reported to receive $1 Million per week in tithes.
I also see, from time to time, the homeless, the day laborer, the poor walking long distances to work in the heat or the cold after getting dropped off at the closest bus station. Frisco, where I live, has no public transportation, neither does the light rail stop here. Tollways are expensive, about $14-20 per day for me. Some of these people have difficulty walking due to disabilities. Others just because they are become old and filled with joint pain and other chronic afflictions as am I. I work, and smoke, with people who have less well paying jobs and struggle. I see all of these things, and more.
Perversion and Corruption
I have a lot of criticisms about the various flavors of Christianity, mainly that we tolerate differences rather than accepting them. I see institutions that kick out people brave enough to be openly gay or trans and reject these “lifestyles” yet embrace adulterers standing next to them and then take their sons to Hooters to watch the women which is of course cloaked in “the game” that’s on television. I hear in my mind Jesus saying “Hypocrites!”
Our fascination with what we call perversions is in and of itself perverse because we accept as normal abominations that frequently occur within our ranks yet shun as perverse individuals who stand out for differences including inter-racial couples, same sex persons or couples, trans people and the all sorts of “abnormalities”. The truth is that no one is normal, that we are all filled with sin, and that God loves us all anyway.
In making these judgments and acting on them, we have corrupted ourselves as surely as the children of Israel corrupted themselves with the Golden Calf. Do we worship our houses of worship, or our God? Do we go there to be entertained, or to pray and approach our God? Sanctuaries are most often multi-use facilities and are not set aside for prayer and worship; the notion of an always open church has vanished. Because holy means special and set apart, do these places lack authentic holiness? Are they set aside for prayer and supplication?
We are become the Pharisees – a political party, by the way – we demand compliance to our rules and regulations with which we ourselves do not comply. We gather huge amounts of money to embellish the places wherein our feet tread, not the places where the feet of Christ’s own – the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the oppressed, the underdog – tread. We are the Pharisee thanking God that he’s not a sinner, not the common man admitting his sin and begging for forgiveness. If you doubt that, just listen to the news and our politics for a bit, either side. The arrogance, the hubris, is on full display. God help us. God forgive us.
With all of the forgiveness preached in the Gospel, we don’t read of anyone forgiving Judas, do we? I mean he betrayed Christ Jesus, but it was God’s will was it not? Did he not repent when he gave back the blood money, when killed himself? Perhaps the truth is that forgiving betrayal is very hard for humans and that may be why Christ Jesus allows the possibility of divorce in the case of adultery.
To betray someone, one must be in a position of trust. There are many acts of betrayal, large an small, and in the workplace this is quite common at some level and we must learn to deal with it. Secrets are poorly kept, well intentioned friends betray our trust seeking to help, lots of things happen that merit and receive forgiveness and understanding.
But when the shepherd betrays the sheep, pastor being the Latin word for shepherd, or the shepherd’s chosen staff do, then great harm occurs and while sheep are docile and forgiving, except of course for the Rams. Actually, most of us are rather goat like and that’s a different animal altogether: not docile in the least.
Indeed, I’ve seen Rams oust the pastor from his flock, another act of betrayal. In one case, I’ve seen a wonderful man ousted because he was too much of a hick to be in such a highfalutin church. Pity, I sought him out when my mother was sick in the ICU and he brought the calm waters that restored my soul.
I’ve seen new regimes enter a church and clean house through the use of lies and the betrayal of the sheep who served. I’ve had pastors explain the reasons for changes by looking me in the eye and speaking lies. By that I mean saying things that the pastor knew were untrue and were also demonstrably untrue within the time space universe.
Am I bitter? Yes, I’ve been betrayed. Of course I’m bitter, but what makes the bitterness endure is that people whom I loved were also betrayed and that I cannot forgive even if they do. Read the prophets and see if you don’t read God as having similar thoughts, not that I am He, far from it, but that such continuing mistrust and revulsion may indeed endure past the sunset. I mean, even Jesus on the Cross – forgive them for they know not what they do – if you know what you’re doing, forgiveness is on offer if you take the right path, but perhaps not if you don’t. I’ve had to change my path so many times you’d think I was in a maze. Perhaps I am.
That said, the Gospel and the Old Testament tell us over and over again the the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob finds arrogance and willful oppression hard to forgive if it does not yield to humility and admission of our common state as sinners unworthy of redemption yet redeemed by our merciful and loving God and our intercessor, His anointed, Christ Jesus.
When Martin Luther declared that he would be judged by scripture alone, “Sola Sciptura”, he did a lot more than make a coy defense against the Catholic church. In that statement, sealing the biblical corpus as the only foundation of Christianity, he rejected the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. This may not have been his intention, but it was the impact of his petulant attitude.
And, I don’t forgive that because Luther did not change and, well, there is this:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32 NRS)
We worship and adore a living God, not a book. The book is neither complete (it refers to a whole bunch of material that we don’t have) nor perfect. Give it a cover to cover read a few times and you’ll find this to be true. Without the Holy Spirit we are lost, and I can assure you that the Holy Spirit is with us now, and always.
Still, we seem to worship the book and not our God as though salvation cannot occur without it. That’s simply not the case, Jesus doesn’t demand that, and neither does God. Perhaps Jeremiah puts it best:
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NRS)
If one believes that Jesus sent the comforter, the Holy Spirit to us, should we not consider the possibility that the Spirit speaks as Jeremiah foretells? Should we not consider:
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:1-15 NRS)
Don’t just read John 3:16, read the context! After all, the biblical canon was not established at the time of Christ, and the New Testament was not written. Are we to believe that the Apostles themselves are not saved? How absurd and arrogant we are.
My observation is that powerful organizations tend to use wealth and power to ensure continued wealth and power by creating a pall of silence over misdeeds, betrayals, and other failures through the use of the authority that those within the organization cede to that organization. In other words, no organization is scandal and mistake proof, but quite a lot go to great lengths – even payoffs and murders – to avoid these problems from being made public and causing embarrassment, decreased cash flow, and tarnish on the brand – lack of trust and goodwill towards the organization. That’s why the federal government has statute protecting whistle blowers and the like. This is certainly true of churches. The implications of this are obvious and tawdry and I shall not tarry there.
No, my criticism is that the majority, the vast majority, of funds collected on your average Sunday benefit those going to the sustaining church building and its staff, not the community as a whole. They pay for the building, the staff, and so forth and so on first, and then whatever is left over may be used to help those in need.
You see, that makes great sense in a small community that has few houses of worship. But in Dallas and its suburbs? Churches in opulent settings with professional musicians? Literally hundreds of millions of dollars each year? Really? And donations being written off on taxes as though they went to serve the community, after all, that is the law.
I am appalled by what I see. Where are the thousand points of light that Reagan and Bush spoke of? Are they the hands and feet of Jesus lit by the ready lamps of his disciples or are they bonfires which fuel debauched pagan revelry worshiping opulence and affluence? Perhaps more the latter than the former. And while those points of light shine, the poor, the homeless, the lost freeze in the cold or swelter in the heat. And we do next to nothing.
People will do what they do. None are without error, and we’re all fools, or least I can state without equivocation that I myself am an errant fool. We seek simple solutions to complex problems that, in truth, desperately need divine intervention and guidance for we cannot understand nor can we extricate ourselves from our own self-interests. Consider the words of Isaiah below and consider how they shed light on what it means to follow Jesus. It is for this that we must be ready, not to rule the world; Jesus is already its king.
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah. 53:1-12 KJV)