Saturday, April 12, 2014

Responding to Voice for the Voiceless comment

This is a response to a comment left on THIS article.  My response got too long for Blogger to accept, so I had to make it a new article.

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for the commenting on my article.  I wrote this article three years ago, so I had to review it so I would know how to respond to you.  At the time, my wife and I were invited to go to Voice for the Voiceless by a friend of ours who lived with some Catholic nuns.  They identified with the Franciscan order, and devoted their lives to what they viewed as social justice.

Well, that was three years ago.  Since then, our Catholic friend who invited us, the nuns she lived with, in fact every single Catholic friend we had at the time (save one) has left my life.  Unfortunately, they are no longer friends.  I treasured these people, and it makes me sad when I think about them today.  I volunteered what time and effort I could to help their cause to ease the plight of the poor (and as you well know, the El Paso area has plenty of poverty).  As I wrote in this article, I admired their dedication to service, even if I disagreed with their strictly religious motivations.  Our Catholic friends had plenty of connections, so my wife and I volunteered where we could within the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, my lack of religious Faith would inevitably get in the way.  I would be hanging sheetrock, and some missionary would inevitably ask, “so what church do you go to?”  I would say, “I do not attend church”, and hope that they would not probe with further questions.  Eventually, it got too much.  Catholic friends started to leave us, one by one.  They asked my wife why she was still with me, and warned her that I was a very bad influence.  It became obvious to me that I was not wanted around any more.  So I stopped volunteering.

Read my article again.  I am not condemning the poor.  I am not unaffected by the stories of a murdered journalist or a threatened librarian.  That is not the point.  The point is that I am viewed as part of the problem simply because I do not believe Catholic dogma to be true.  I volunteered to help because I know a little about construction, and I can afford to buy supplies.  I don’t care about discussing religion or arguing people out of their beliefs.  I genuinely want to help where I can.  But I am not welcome among the social-justice Catholics any more.  They had to know that, despite what they all said about me, that I am not a person who secretly believes.  I am not a person who is ‘searching’.  I am not a prodigal son who will soon find his way back to belief.  No.  I really do not believe any of it!  I want to help.  I admire the service and dedication.  I just don’t believe in superstition, and don’t like being made to feel guilty because I am ‘privileged’.  And the social-justice Catholics have made it clear to me – they do not want me around any more.

I divert my charities in other directions now.  Border justice is not the only cause worth my attention.  I do not organize with my ‘kindred, non-religious skeptics’ because I honestly don’t know any.  I think almost everyone I know identifies as being a Catholic, although with varying degrees of conviction.  Actually, I suspect that I do know non-believers – it is just that I do not care to discuss religious beliefs with most of the people I know.  Even if I did know more non-believers, I have no desire to organize with people who don’t believe.  I know plenty of people do, but to me, organizing around something that I do not believe in has always seemed strange.  I just choose not to do it.  But religious people always wonder why atheists do not form hospitals and charities if they think they are so virtuous.  But they fail to recognize two things:

1) Atheist charities may not exist, but secular ones do.  Lots of them.  What I mean by that is, you can join, volunteer, donate time and money to these organizations, and you will never be scrutinized for your religious beliefs.  Religious beliefs or even lack of belief are irrelevant to these organizations.  All they want is your dedication to their cause.  This is unlike Annunciation House, which demands that I give a detailed account of my religious beliefs before I can volunteer.

2) So why don’t atheists have relief charities if they are so great?  Because, by and large, atheism is not an organization.  It is not a religion.  It requires no Faith.  This is why I don’t call myself an ‘atheist’.  It does not mean anything beyond non-belief.  Do you know what is required to be an atheist?  I don’t believe your god exists.  Boom.  That’s it.  It’s over.  There is no creed, no conviction, no faith, nothing to organize around.  It is effortless.  It would be kind of tough to form a hospital based only on something the doners and patrons did not believe in.  That does not not make any sense to me.

The social-justice Catholic uses words like ‘privilege’ as a derogatory term.  If you say that I am “speaking from a place of privilege”, it is meant to mean that I am not as virtuous as the person who is in need.  I understand that poverty is considered to be a virtue to the social-justice Catholic.  I am by no means a millionaire, but it is true, I am wealthier now than I ever imagined I would be just ten years ago.  But calling people like myself a pejorative like ‘privileged’ is just a function of the religious habit of inflicting guilt.  I can be shown that a need exists, without being made to feel guilty that I have not personally experienced that need.  I agree – those of us who have plenty should feel obligated to give time, resources, money and expertise where we can.  The main point of my article is the strictly religious motivation behind these charities.  It is judgmental, divisive and I am through with guilt manipulation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Blockbuster Bible

I know I am very late in writing this.  In today’s frantic and fickle pop-cultural tastes, a week is an eternity.  I want to write a bit about the new Noah movie over a week after the Hollywood blockbuster has been released, but since this is not a movie review; the week delay should not matter too much.

I have not seen the movie.  It’s not that I have anything against it.  It is just that I do not get out to the local bijou very often.  (Bijou?!!?  Now I know I am getting old.)  But from the few reviews that I have read on the Internet, everybody who has seen it seems to have some kind of heated response.  My favorites are from reviewers who condemn the movie for being ‘historically inaccurate’.  Oh dear.

Quickly, and without seeing the stinking movie, here is my take.  The only difference between Noah and other modern interpretations of mythical epics is the fact that a large percentage of people still believe in myths contained in The Bible.  Hollywood can safely deviate from ancient tradition when they dramatize King Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf or other quasi-legendary heroes.  Forget about legend and myth.  Historical dramatizations, even recent Oscar winners (e.g. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Captain Phillips, etc., etc.) often deviate from known historical events.  This artistic license is routinely done, everybody understands it, and nobody seems to mind.  But when certain myths that come from a certain book are given the same artistic treatment, people come unglued. 

With this month’s Noah, and the Exodus movie scheduled for a December release, Biblical epics seem to be making something of a comeback.  They were hot Hollywood property back in the 1950s, and even then there was plenty of fuss and furor over deviations from the text.  I saw The Ten Commandments in a drive-in theater in the early 1970s, and I had to listen to Grandma Wagner nit-pick over every scene (‘An Egyptian Princess?  Who fell in love with Moses!  That’s not in the Bible!’).  Even the Catholic TV-movie Jesus of Nazareth from 1977 went through my mom’s pious scrutiny (‘The Bible says Jesus was dunked when he was baptized! He was not sprinkled!’).

Nope.  Their can be no deviation from these ancient myths.  At least, the ancient myths that we happen to believe are actually true.  Even history can get a pass, but not these beloved myths.  Christians often ask, ‘why would non-believers want to make a movie about a story in the Bible?’  No Christian, it is not because you or your scriptures are being mocked.  It is because The Bible contains some great stories, and with a little brushing up, that book is great fodder for Hollywood blockbusters.  As far as I am concerned, if Hollywood can tweak mythic heroes like Odysseus, Hercules, Thor and Beowulf and film them with epic scope and effects for a modern audience, they should be able to do the same thing with Noah.  I see no difference between them, except again, that some people still believe in Noah.  They may even see in the movie Noah the inevitable slide toward treating more big ticket Bible stories as summer blockbusters.  Maybe they have a right to be worried.  The Bible is ripe for the picking. 

This may explain the controversy over Noah.  Theologically, I do not see how the Biblical Patriarch is important.  The stories of Noah contained in the Bible have nothing to do with redemption from sin and salvation through Jesus.  Noah taught no moral standards.  The only thing the story of Noah and the Deluge explains to the modern reader is the formation of the Grand Canyon and the purpose of rainbows – and this only to a handful of Christians.  If I had to guess, the presentation of Noah as a Hollywood action hero is not what worries Christians.  I think what worries Christians is that they see the potential of more of their holy myths as summer blockbusters.  Noah may not be that important to Christian theology, but who is next?  Moses is coming in December.  Elijah and Elisha are golden opportunities for lovers of action spiced with magical spells.  But eventually, the biggest ticket item of them all is coming.  You know He will.  Think I am kidding?

Say, you know, Jesus did have a dark side to him.  Didn’t he turn over the money-changers’ tables and cause the Temple worship to cease?  Can we picture a plausible insurrection against the Romans before his fateful destruction?  Hmm … I think the people behind a movie like 300 can easily do something with that.  No I am not joking.  Christians must know this.  They simply cannot stomach the idea of having a ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Palestinian deity opening against Marvel Comics’ ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Scandinavian deity at the nearest multiplex.     

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bataan 2014

I am an avid jogger and runner, but I typically do not enter local running events. One of the main reasons I run is to be alone in the desert. I test my body, I listen to my breathing; I am out there almost as a form of meditation. The crowds of organized road races take away from what I love about running, so I really have little interest in them.

 The Bataan Memorial Death March is the one exception that I make. First and foremost, it is not a race. It is a memorial march in remembrance of the real Bataan Death March, which was a forced march of Philippine and American soldiers in 1942. Thousands were killed in the forced march. The annual march is held in New Mexico, not just as memorial of the wartime event of 1942, but a memorial to any soldier who has fallen in any conflict. That is what I love about it. Most participants were active duty soldiers, or family members of soldiers, who had lost a person they loved in some overseas conflict. I would say that over half of this year’s 6300 participants marched with heavy backpacks. Many of these packs had placards pinned on the rear as memorials of somebody who had died in Bataan, or a more recent conflict. There were plenty of ‘wounded warriors’ who marched in the desert with prosthetic limbs and modified wheelchairs.

 The 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March was held last Sunday up in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. I had trained very hard for this event for several months. I am familiar with running in the rocks and sand of desert terrain, but the marathon distance of 26 miles is a bit past my comfort zone. Since the Bataan is not technically a race, I was unconcerned about how fast I ran it. Recently, the event officials have decided to give the fastest finishers of each category some kind of prize. I am not in favor of this at all. In my mind, it ruins the spirit of the march. Almost nobody, including myself, is there to win a race. Before the event, I promised myself not to over-exert myself. I would stop at every break station, eat plenty of bananas and peanut brittle, take the time to change my socks if I needed to, and stop to take photos and chat with people. My only goal was just to be finished before the afternoon winds typically begin around 1PM. I ended up running most of the 26 miles, but took long breaks in between and even walked about 2 miles towards the end. It was challenging, emotional, and terrific. I have finally completed the Bataan Memorial Death March. With that under my belt, I am not sure I want to do it again next year. We will see.

 And with that, here are some photos:

 Rosemary brought her Philippine flag with her to early morning crowds before the event. It attracted every Philippine person who saw it, including one Philippine man we met who decided to march in period costume. All the Philippine people wanted to pose with Rosemary's flag! She must have made a dozen new friends!




This is the beginning of the march. There were 6300 participants this year. I am trying not to get trampled by the soldiers!


This is one of the original survivors of the 1942 Bataan Death March. There are not many of these old timers left. There were thirteen survivors in attendance, and I got to talk to two of them. This is at the starting gate, and the crowds were a bit hectic. Eventually, the survivors were driven out to some of the water stations where things were a little slower paced.


I could not believe the size of some of these backpacks the soldiers chose to march with. Some of them were even running with these huge things. Ack! My knees!


This guy lost his grandfather in the Bataan Death March in 1942. So many of these guys were walking memorials to a person they lost. Sometimes I asked them about the person they had pinned on their backpack or shirt. They were always willing to talk and share stories.


The camouflage kilts are all kinds of awesome!


This nut was playing loud rock music out of his parked car, dancing and banging on a cowbell. I don't get it.


After running 22 miles or so, we hit the infamous 'sand pit'. By this time, everybody is feeling stiff, and the sand can definitely make it worse. When you hit this, you must change your stride. Use it to your advantage, lift your knees a bit more, and use it to stretch out your calves with each step.


This poor lady just twisted her ankle on a steep downhill grade. I remember thinking, you know you are getting older when running downhill is tougher than running uphill!


The support for this event was outstanding. We were out in the desert, and away from any roads, but the route was constantly monitored by people on horses and ATVs. There were also 3 or 4 medic stations along the route. They did not want to leave anybody behind!


Only 3 miles to go! I was hurting by this point. My feet especially, were really starting to ache. They were swelling up for some reason, and running on swollen feet is definitely uncomfortable.




When I finished, I kissed Rosemary, and was near tears. Not pain. Tears of joy. 26 miles of jogging through the desert among all these walking memorials gave me a bit of time to reflect on myself. I am grateful for my wonderful life and all that I have and the people that I love.

 Next year? We will see...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Gospel of Petronilla

I.

I live to be a vessel of chastity and faith.  I know that I must soon be martyred, so I live now to earn my crown in the Heavens.  Although my father is famous and known by many names, my own name is not important.  I have decreased to the fullest, and am but filthy and polluted waste compared to the glory of the One who was crucified for my sake.  I no longer live, but it is He who lives through me.  The curse that I live with in the flesh is the price that I willingly must pay for the reward given to me by my Heavenly Father.  It is the life that was given to me, and the life that I am forced to choose.

I am an undefiled maiden, and the daughter of the most famous apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I spend most days lying on a cushion, appearing before many unbelievers to be helpless.  I always lay behind my father while he preaches.  This is how I live my witness to those who seek Faith.  Though I am weak in the flesh, I have been given strength by the Spirit of God.  The power of my father’s preaching comes from his gift of the Spirit of Jesus, which he received by fire and the sign of speaking with unknown tongues.  Since he was given this power, his words and deeds have gained fame through all of Jerusalem and even through the whole world!  He heals the sick with a touch of his sweaty handkerchief, or even the passing over of his shadow.  There are times when such a tumultuous crowd presses against my father in search of a miracle, that he graciously wipes his brow with a cloth, then throws the cloth into the mob.  The crowds sometimes fight for just a touch of his cloth so that they may also receive of his blessing.  The Holy Spirit of God has also given my father the power of discernment.  The false believer and the hypocrite are naked before his presence, and can hide nothing before his opened eyes.  Through discernment and wisdom, he can see the stain of deceit and faithless sin.  Father’s eyes can see all of the spirit dominions, principalities and powers that lie hidden behind this physical world and our carnal eyes. The people fear his power of miracles and discernment.  They love him for his miracles, signs and wonders, but fear the power behind his cursing and condemnations.  Some hypocrites have dared to blaspheme the holy Name of Jesus by conspiring to lie to the Spirit of the Lord.  Father can see the serpents in the grass, and they have dropped dead before his curse and the Sign of the Cross.

The greatest sign which our Lord gives to my father is through the power of his preaching.  Many have turned to faith in Jesus Christ because the Spirit of God works through his words.  I remember the time of my own youth, when father spent his days fishing in the Great Sea.  In those days, he was very strong.  His hands were rough from working ropes, oars and sails.  His language was course, and his manners were rude.  My big, simple, lovable father!  How I loved him so!  He was simple, but he was mature and always provided for his family.  In those days he had a name which I now no longer remember.  But after father was privileged to be chosen by our Lord Jesus Christ, he was given a new name as the Rock and Foundation of our new Faith.  My simple father was given the keys to the very Heavens by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our Lord Jesus is now in the Heavens, beyond the clouds, sitting at the right hand of His Father.  Now my father must fulfill the responsibilities given him by our Lord, and he is to fulfill the work of our Lord here on earth. 

After my father was given power through the Spirit of God, he began to speak and preach as he never did before!  His speech is no longer the course and salty speech of a fisherman.  The very Spirit of God now speaks through my father and empowers him to convert many to the Faith by his words.  Only through the power of our Lord could any man work so mightily.  He no longer fishes, or provides for his family.  We now have faith that the Lord Himself will provide for all of our needs.

But even greater than that, greater than the signs and wonders, greater than the healings and miracles, greater even than the power of the Spirit that works through my father - the greatest miracle of all is the conviction of sin which the Spirit works through me.  Yes, me, the humble daughter of the First Apostle of Jesus and the rock upon which our Lord’s Church is built.  Our Lord Jesus has blessed my father by empowering him with bold speech and the working of miraculous signs and wonders, but our Lord has also blessed me with my own witness.  Sometimes the sin of the heathen has made their hearts so hardened that even the great miracles of my father will not make them believe.  They will not believe him after hearing his preaching, and they fight to suppress the truth of the Gospel.  Our Lord, with His great mercy, does not will that any of these heathen be left out of the Kingdom of God, where there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No!  Glory to God, He will not forsake them!  He will tug on their hearts to convict them of their sin!  They will not yield up their ghosts to everlasting torment!  When the miraculous signs and powerful preaching of father have failed, then comes my calling.  That is my blessing.  My gift can soften their hardened hearts.  My father steps aside from his preaching, and the heathen can see me, reclining helpless on a cushion.  Though my flesh is weak, the Spirit of God is powerful.  The last stumbling block is overcome when the unbeliever beholds my body, crippled from the palsy which our most beneficent Lord Jesus has blessed me with.

II. 

My flesh once tasted the curse of health and comeliness.  When I was a young girl, I was an obstruction to many men because of my beauty.  My father had warned me that I was doomed to be a stumbling block to many.  Father once told me that on the very day I was born, long before father had even met our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, father had a vision.  Through an angel, the Lord visited my father in that vision and said to him, “On this day has been born unto you a very great affliction.  This daughter of yours will blossom in beauty, strength, grace and bewitchery.    She is destined to hurt many souls, if her flesh is to remain strong and healthy!  She will have a comely appearance, a strong body, and will learn graceful movements and charming song.  Her fleshly body will be the damnation of many as long as her flesh remains healthy”

As I grew older, the vision from the angel the Lord proved to be true.  I grew strong, healthy, and more alluring than any of my young playmates.  When our Lord humbled Himself and walked the earth among us, He met my father in the docks as he was casting nets for fish.  Father could not resist Him, and it was there that father and uncle Andros began to follow Him.  Father had received his calling from our Lord, and I still remember the blessed day when He preached in our humble family house.  The crowds!  There were so many people crowded into our small house just to hear our Lord, that some men even pried a hole through the thatched rooftiles, just so they could lower a sick man down in front of Him.  Because of their faith, the sick man was healed on that blessed day. Soon after that, my father left our house, his family and his fishing nets to wander the land, casting his nets as a fisher of men.

During those few, short years when father followed our Lord throughout the country, I stayed at home with my grandmother.  I believe that the men who had crowded in our small house remembered me, because grandmother could not keep the heathen suitors away from our door.  Father had become a wandering preacher, and could not easily tend to his chores at home.  At that time, many men wished to defile me, and it was only through the grace of God that I remained a virgin.

After our Lord put on the robes of His glory and ascended into the Heavens, father was told by an angel to remain in Jerusalem and the Spirit of God would enter into him there, and direct him on his new mission of preaching.  While he was away in Jerusalem, a local gardener and his young daughter came to visit my father, thinking that he had already returned.  The gardener had heard of the many miraculous things which Jesus our Lord had shown to my father, and the gardener had a request.  The girl he brought was his only child.  And like myself, she was young, exceedingly beautiful, and a virgin devoted to faith in our Lord Jesus.  But father was away, and the suitors who pursued me, saw the beautiful gardener’s daughter.  Her father was able to curse these heathen and keep his daughter safe, but this occurred so that the gardener’s daughter could see the real danger and need for our Lord’s protection from defilement.

III.

After father had received the mighty gifts of the Spirit, of miraculous healing and powerful discernment, he returned home to his family.  When he returned, it was as if we had never known him.  The humble fisherman was now a luminous prophet of God.  The suitors who wished to defile me now feared my father, and removed themselves of the fearsome Spirit which empowered him.  Upon hearing of his return, the gardener and his daughter returned to our house for a visit.  Because of the gardener’s love for his daughter, and his wish that she not be shamed with sinful defilement, he asked my father to pray for her, and to ask for God’s special blessing upon her. 

Father did as he was asked for his friend the gardener.  He anointed the girl’s head with a dollop of oil, made the Sign of the Cross, placed his hands on her and prayed, “Most Holy Lord Jesus, I ask you to place your special blessing on this young woman, this daughter of the faithful gardener.  She has remained pure and undefiled for You, and only strives to live a holy life and to perform those works which are according to Your divine purpose.  As I begin to prepare my humble house for Your great commission and ministry, I ask that you give the gardener Your Spirit to live in Faith, and for his daughter to remain untainted by sin and pure in immaculate chastity.”

After my father prayed this prayer, and after again invoking the Sign of the Cross, the gardener’s daughter yielded up her ghost, and dropped dead before the eyes of us all.  There was a shameful and faithless shock at the drastic action of our Lord, and our minds struggled to understand and accept our Lord’s means of answering my father’s prayer.  Only through the discernment of the Holy Spirit did my father understand the true meaning of this answered prayer.  “She has been baptized and received the Eucharist.  Our Lord has elected to bring an end to her life of fleshly corruption and suffering, and to bring her home to glory with Him in the Heavens.  O worthy gain and suitable to God, to escape the insolence of the flesh and mortify the boastfulness of the blood!”  But that foolish, old gardener, faithless, and not knowing the greatness of the heavenly favor, ignorant of the divine benefit, begged of father that his only daughter might be raised again. 

So the gardener blasphemed the perfect will of our Lord.  The Lord was faithful to His word and answered the gardener’s prayer, and his daughter was raised as he had wished.  But not many days after, the slave who lodged in their house could no longer resist the fleshly temptations, and ruined the gardener’s daughter.  It was then that we all understood the wisdom of our most holy Lord, and the lesson to allow His divine will to be done on pain of His most terrible consequences.  The gardener would not heed the perfect will of our Lord, and his daughter would suffer the offensive penalty with her corrupted body.  She was defiled, and was cursed to be the vessel of sin which would flow to her children of contempt.  But father, having heard of her fate, again prayed for her.  God heard father’s prayer, and took her again as a merciful relief from the suffering of this world.

IV.

Soon after that time Flaccus, another friend of my father, came to visit.  He had also wished to marry me, but he was not among the other suitors who wished to have me as a wife.  Since he was a wealthy and generous man, he did not lie at the door of our house like a dog, as the other suitors had done.  He decided to wait until father returned from Jerusalem, so that he could ask him as one man to another.  I was thirteen years old by this time, in the flower of my youth, and Flaccus was offering my father a handsome dowry to bring me into his house as a wife.  He insisted to my father that he would love me, cherish me, and offer a most generous dowry in return for my hand.  Father then remembered his prayer for the gardener’s daughter, and the meaning of her giving up the ghost.  “No Flaccus!  A curse be upon you and your dowry!  You shall not defile my virgin daughter!  Her body is to be offered up as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and she is to remain a virgin and a living testimony of the purity and holiness of our Lord!”  But Flaccus was not mindful of religious concerns.  He doubled his offering price to marry me, and still my father refused.

Father said to me, “The assaults of the devil are many, and there are many evils of the world which you must escape.  Do not shed tears.  You will soon learn of what you must suffer on earth if blessing is to fall upon you in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The snares of the Evil One are many, and chastity has been perverted by the wiles of Satan.  O treachery of life and perversion of all that is holy!”

But I was such a fetching young girl!  My comely appearance, strong body, graceful movements and charming song made me worth much more than even the abundant dowry offered by Flaccus.  The words that the angel had spoken to my father concerning my seductive and inviting nature had been fulfilled.  I had remained healthy, and I became a stumbling block to the wiles of men.  Flaccus was so wealthy and prideful, that he could no longer fathom the thought that I was not included as first among his wives.  Finally, one day soon after, Flaccus sent his slaves for me.  They stole me away while my father was preaching by the docks.  The slaves took me to the house of Flaccus, where he hoped to defile me in his private bed chamber.

But father discerned my danger through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he remembered the angel that had appeared to him on the day that I was born.  He remembered that I was to blossom into beauty, strength, grace and bewitchery, and it was not God’s will that I should bring men into sinful temptation.  Not only would I tempt men into lustful and filthy actions, but my exceeding beauty doomed me to be a defiled vessel and not among the members of the Body of Christ.  The angel had told my father that the temptations I bore in my body would be the curse of many men.  The angel’s words proved true as I stood in the bed chamber of Flaccus, poised to give him the cup of his own damnation.

V.

Father perceived that I had enticed Flaccus beyond his own capacity, and he had stolen me away to be his wife.  He made the Sign of the Cross as he prayed, “Almighty Father, maker of the Heavens, the earth, and all they contain; maker of Your unworthy servant and his lowly daughter; Your angel came to me in a vision and warned me that my daughter would be a stumbling block to many.  Indeed she has grown most alluring and temptful.  None can match her beauty, and all who look upon her are gripped with deceitful lust.  Holy Father, Your angel warned me in that vision that she would continue to be a distraction into sin as long as she remained healthy.  Lord Jesus told us when he had humbled Himself upon earth, that to look upon such a one as her with mere lustful thoughts alone is as a sin of adultery in Your holy presence.  But I now fear that she has been stolen away to be defiled by a man who is unable to resist her fleshly charm and wiles.  You know how my daughter believes in Your holy Name, and is faithful to You.  She does not wish to live in defilement.  I therefore ask, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you remove her curse of beauty!  Make her an undesirable burden to any man who would wish to defile her!”

At the instant that father prayed this prayer, I was standing before Flaccus in his bedchamber.  Gripped by the deceit of his own lust, he commanded that I disrobe.  I refused his command in the Name of Jesus Christ!  Better to be tortured by the most gruesome instruments of pain than to be defiled by this faithless unbeliever!  I remembered my Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and invoked His power by the Sign of the Cross.  Flaccus became enraged and was ready to force himself on me.  But just as he approached me, I could feel my skin start to itch, and I looked, and my skin erupted into a rash of leprous boils!  What is more - I could feel my back warp around itself, my spine become weak, and my bones separating from one another.  I crumbled helpless to the floor!  My back was twisted like a coiled lizard so that I had no strength to stand.  I could not even sit up, and I lay helpless by my own flesh at the feet of Flaccus.  But I was not afraid, for though I was powerless in the flesh, the Spirit of God hovered over me for spiritual strength and stamina.  By the power of Jesus Christ, I had become crippled with palsy.  My skin lost its warm color and smoothness, and became hardened with scabs and thickened with calluses.  Before the eyes of Flaccus, I had lost my comely appearance, strong body, graceful movements and charming song.  The curse of temptation had been lifted!  I would be forever a burden to any suitor, and would never fulfill the price of any dowry.  I would never again tempt men with my beauty, or lose my Heavenly reward by the defilement of men!  I would not be cursed to be the vessel of sin or to pass that curse to my children of contempt. Blessed Lord Jesus – Your faithfulness is my salvation!

Flaccus beheld me as a pile of tangled bones before him and believed himself to be tricked and betrayed.  He lifted his foot to kick me, but the Spirit of God protected me, and divine conviction stopped him from harming me.  Even in his passion and anger, he could perceive that he had witnessed a miraculous act of our most holy Lord.  Even he dared not violate His will.  Flaccus uttered a prayer of gratitude, an admission of defeat, then commanded his slaves to lift me into the wagon and deliver me back to my father’s house.  His defilement was no longer worth any dowry that he could offer.  Praise be to our righteous and most holy Jesus Christ – He has saved me from corruption and defilement!

VI.

I now live with my father in Rome, the capitol of the Empire.  The authorities persecute those of us who believe on the Name of Jesus Christ.  They call us magicians and jugglers, and since we are not permitted to establish our Church, we must meet in the homes of new converts, or move from street to street.  But the powerful words and miraculous signs performed by father always attract large crowds, as a well of sweet water draws the parched camel.  It did not take long for the reputation of my father and knowledge of the new religion to spread throughout Rome.  On every street corner my father preaches, and I am there as part of our Lord’s witness of purity.

When the miraculous signs and powerful preaching of father have failed, then comes my calling.  That is my blessing.  My gift can soften their hardened pagan hearts.  My father steps aside from his preaching, and the heathen can see me, reclining helpless on a cushion.  Though my flesh is weak, the Spirit of God is powerful.  The last stumbling block is overcome when the unbeliever beholds my body, crippled from the palsy which our most beneficent Lord Jesus has blessed me with.

On the first day of the week, father preached the Faith of the true and living God just outside the pagan Templum Matris Deum.  As the pagans exited their temple and passed the courtyard, they saw father there, and knew of his reputation.  They had heard of the many miraculous deeds which Jesus worked through him.  The multitudes brought their sick to my father, asking that he would show them a sign and perform a miracle of healing.  Even the mother of their gods could not perform miracles or show signs to the people of Rome.  My father had mercy on the sick and indigent, and by his Word and the Sign of the Cross, he healed many in the name of Jesus Christ. 

One pagan man, after receiving his miracle took notice me.  Father left me on a cushion as he preached, and wished others to see the helpless and crippled maiden who lay on a mattress behind him.  The pagan man gathered the courage to ask, “disciple of the god Jesus, before our very eyes, you have caused the lame to walk, the deaf to hear and the blind to see.  We can see the power and the favor that your god has placed on you.  Therefore I ask, why has Jesus not shown favor on your own virgin daughter?  She has grown up faithful and believing in your God.  Yet there she lies on her cushion in the corner, legs fully crippled and a side of her body fully paralyzed.  She lies behind you helpless in the corner, and helpless without your care!  We can see all those that you have cured – our brothers and sisters in this city.  Do you not care for your own daughter?

Father smiled at the pagan.  He understood the pagan’s confusion, and did not curse him for his lack of Faith.  This hapless unbeliever was not the first to accuse him of neglecting me, his crippled daughter.  They all considered me helpless and under the care of father.  They did not know that I was made inwardly strong by the power of the Spirit of God.  It is through Him that I gain my witness and show His salvation!  I could feel the inquisitive crowd huddle closer to my father, as they were also eager to understand the answer to this riddle.  In answering the pagan man, father addressed himself to the whole crowd, “My son, God has His divine purposes for keeping my daughter appearing as you now see her.  Know that God does not lack the power to touch her with His healing hand.  But, so that you may have faith in the power of His Word…” 

Father then lifted his voice to address the crowd, “… and so that those present here with us may believe all the more ... !”

Father turned back to me, and focused on my helpless and crippled form lying on the cushion.  He invoked the power of Jesus by the Sign of the Cross and commanded with a flourish, “Arise from your cushion in the name of Jesus Christ and in His name alone!  Rise!  And in the presence of all before us, walk to me!  My beloved daughter, rise! And walk to me!

I felt my flesh compelled by the irresistible Will of God!  My joints again fused in place, my limbs gained their strength, and the spirit of paralysis loosened its grip from my back.  My skin regained its moisture and color, and my face once more shone with healthy radiance.  I was forced up by the power of Jesus Christ, and I rose and walked slowly to my father, and before the astonished crowds of pagans.

The crowd stood in amazement.  Every man could see my great beauty now that I stood strong and erect.  But only those among the crowd with the eyes of Faith could see in this miracle the true wisdom of the Will of God.  I stood before the converts of Rome as a living testimony to the wisdom of the True God – set aside from fleshly corruption for eternal glory.  They could see before them my comely appearance, strong body, graceful movements and charming song, but only those with true faith in Jesus could see that I was a living temptation.  They could understand that without the miraculous power of God, I would lead many men to their eternal damnation.  Satisfied that the miracle opened many of their eyes, and had strengthened the faith of many present, my father again made the Sign of the Cross and commanded, “Daughter, return to your place!  Sit on your cushion and become as you were before – a witness to the supreme wisdom of Jesus Christ!”

I returned to the cushion as I was commanded, having again fulfilled my witness of Faith.  My skin again erupted into leprous boils, and my flesh lost all fleshly strength.   I became again a pile of crippled and tangled bones and flesh.  Those few unbelievers remaining pleaded with father to make me whole again.  They begged that I appear to them again as a striking virgin beauty.

But father laughed and instructed them, “Now you see that God is not unable or powerless to heal even my daughter, even before the faithless heathen.  But you now also understand His divine purpose and wisdom.” 

We gained many converts to belief in Jesus on that day, and the disciples of my father baptized many into the Faith.  We do this before the authorities chase us away, but we simply move and preach across from another pagan temple.  I know that we must soon be martyred.  I do not yet know how.  The execution may come from the unbelieving crowds, or perhaps by a pagan magician, or perhaps again by the Emperor himself.  But until that glorious day when I am martyred, and I am allowed to give up my ghost and ascend to our most Holy Father in the Heavens, I will continue to live my witness as an incorruptible virgin and symbol for the power of Jesus Christ.


-This tale was adapted from the 2nd century apocryphal work, The Acts of Peter

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dear Anonymous ...

Dear Anonymous …

thank you so much for taking the trouble to read my long ‘Conversions and De-conversions’ story, and for replying with your thoughtful comments.  I too had to leave Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque back in the early 1990s - 1993 if I remember correctly.  It became too big, too fast – the hypocrisy, the guilt, the Cult of Personality surrounding Pastor Skip – it was all driving me crazy.  The School of ministry at Calvary Chapel Albuquerque opened around 1990, and I was very tempted to sign up in its inaugural semester.  I did not have the money at the time.

When were you there?  It is possible that we have met.

But your attitude sounds like the one I had when I left Calvary Chapel in 1993.  I still believed in God, in Jesus, but I was burned out on Christians, on religion, on Christian culture.  I continued to believe in God, in one form or another, for another 15 years.  Your attitude though, and the way you write, sounds so similar to mine around 1994 or so. 



THE END?  I hope not.  I just turned 50 years old last week.  My wife Rosemary and I continue to grow closer to each other, and I have a new appreciation for the discoveries of life after completely leaving my Christian Faith.  There was once a time, especially upon leaving Christianity, that I posted blog articles at a ridiculous pace.  These days, I rarely post articles because I am content with my life, and I don’t feel compelled to write about doubt, unbelief and the outrage of leaving religious belief that I once felt.  THE END?  As I get older, I hope to enter a new chapter in my life.  Right now though, I just do not see belief in a Deity being a part of it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The true meaning of Christmas

Finally, a church here in El Paso understands the true Reason for the Season:


Merry Christmas to all!  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This is not a punishment. God loves you

I was watching ABS-CBN Pinoy Satellite television the other night with Rosemary.  The past two weeks have been wall to wall coverage of the Visayas region in Philippines.  Clean up has finally begun.  Evacuations are still underway in the regions that were hit the worst, and bulldozers are starting to clear the rubble.  The thousands of corpses stiffened and bloating in the streets are finally being removed to mass graves.  The popular variety shows in Philippines are filling their air-time with benefits and fund raisers.  I am proud to say that several doctors here in El Paso recently departed for Philippines, to selflessly volunteer their time and expertise where it is most needed.

Yolanda was one of the most powerful typhoons on record to make landfall.  The Visayas region where the typhoon hit hardest was already weakened from last month’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake.  Yolanda just cleared away what was left over.  Homes were flattened by 200 mph+ winds.  Children were ripped from their mother’s arms by a 30 foot ocean surge.  Some desperate people tried tying themselves to coconut trees to avoid being swept out to sea, only to be found bloated from sea water and tied to a useless tree trunk.  Thousands dead.  Millions displaced.  Rosemary sometimes cannot keep from crying when watching news broadcasts from her island home. 

This past weekend, the first Catholic Mass was held in Tacloban since Yolanda destroyed the city.  The Visayas region of the Philippines is overwhelmingly Catholic, a religion brought to Philippines by their Spanish conquerors.  I do not doubt that these people would look to the Church as their source of strength and courage after a typhoon like Yolanda.  While watching worshippers cramming into what was left of their church, I asked Rosemary if people ever blame God after a tragedy instead of worshipping Him.  I admit, I was being a little flippant with her.

“Oh no.  They would never do that.  They would just not do that.”

My flippancy did not last long.  “Why not?  Don’t they ever question?  Don’t they ever ask?  I mean, I think by now they are justified.  ‘God, you sent an earthquake.  Now you sent a typhoon.  My children have drowned.  I mean, what the hell, God?!’”

One Tacloban Catholic priest, wet and sweaty after hauling bags of rice, was interviewed by a reporter.  Most reporting is in Tagalog, but I happened to catch this one in English.  I wish I could find the clip online but I cannot.  I paraphrase:

Priest: After this destruction, I had to question, ‘God, where are you?”
Reporter: What did you discover after your questioning?
Priest: I found the answer in prayer and faith.  This tragedy is not a punishment from God.  God loves us.

I try so hard to be sympathetic to belief in times of tragedy.  I understand that the people look to the Church as a source of strength when life is at its worst.  I try to see the food and shelter that is actively dispensed by the local Catholic parishes when disaster hits.  But I also know that the Catholic Church as no answers to these questions.  “Prayer” is not an answer to anything.  “Faith” is an admission of defeat. 

I understand that the Catholic Church has no answers to these tragedies beyond those invented by priests desperate to comfort their hurting parishioners.  “This is not a punishment from God,” they say apparently knowing the motivations of the Almighty, “this is a test to bring you closer to God.  Gain strength by reflecting on the suffering of Jesus.”  No Catholic believer ever gets an answer more substantial than this.  The Catholic Church has no answers.  They rely on symbols, rituals and iconography to give meaning to their community of believers.

I try so hard to understand.  But I also understand that the Catholic Church must put effort into keeping their parishioners as helpless, guilty, sinful and ignorant as they possibly can.  They invent the disease, then promote their imaginary cure.  Only the most delusional thanks this all powerful Creature for saving their lives after they have watched others crushed or drowned like caged rats.  Nobody dares blame this all powerful Deity for such death and destruction for fear of torture that never ends.  Nobody dares question their loving Creator for fear of their god, their priest and their community.  But it should be obvious to any of these people, if only they were allowed to think rationally and without fear, that if their god really exists, then He does not give a damn about any one of them.  Any god who allows this kind of death and destruction is not worthy of worship.  Anybody can see this.  Only fear and ignorant superstition can cause those who are shackled and beaten to continue to worship their prison torturer.   

To those who are suffering – you have every right to question, condemn and reject a Deity who claims to love you, yet tortures, destroys and kills you, your family and your friends on a whim.  Nobody prays to this Deity to make the typhoon retreat back to sea.  Nobody prays for the typhoon to miraculously and harmlessly disperse back into the atmosphere before it makes landfall.  Nobody does this because everybody knows that such prayers will do nothing.  Everybody knows that this Deity is powerless to save; He is only there to provide comfort after the destruction is over.  He is thoroughly impotent.  He is worshipped only after disaster has struck.  ‘Peace’ is not living content through the eye of the storm.  ‘Faith’, held at all costs, is not a virtue.  Only the most deluded, fearful and ignorant worships a loving Deity while standing alone among piles of storm strewn rubble and rotting corpses.

I do not like writing articles like this.  It is not tasteful to me.  It is too easy to point at harmful superstition when it is everywhere.  But in the months and years to come, as the Visayas region slowly recovers from these disasters, the shock of destruction will subside, and God will no longer be questioned.  The Catholic Church will again be viewed as a beacon of Faith among a sinful world, and a source of worship among the community.  My tolerance for the Catholic church ebbs and flows with my mood, and I confess that right now I do not have much tolerance left.  Eventually, my temporary hatred of the Catholic Church will subside.  But before I too forget, I want to post my frustration, my anger, my disgust of soul-sucking, parasitic superstition.  I do not write this because I hate the Catholic Church.  Far from it.  I write this because I love the Philippine people.