The Steampunk Vicar

A Presbyterian Pastor on Neo-Victoriana and American Faith

Month: June, 2016

Apologia, pt. I – The Beginning of Wisdom

I recall with an extraordinarily precious sort of Clarity the first Roots of Shame. I was seated near the Fireplace, at the Table nearest the Kitchen, and was narrating (once again) to my Mother a Sequence from my vivid Store of Imaginings. I was a deeply fanciful Child, with a mental Empire of Space, heavily informed by Star Wars and other fantastic Media. Much of my earliest Youth was spent expounding on the Characters and Events of this great Star Nation.

I do not recall the particular Events that I was relating, but I do remember their Character. They were replete with Cruelty and Viciousness, an unpleasant Episode in my storied State’s Annals. And I can summon, with enormous, crystal Replication, the sense that swarmed over me of Wrongness, when it was pointed out to me how awful was the Tale that I told. From the Crown of my Head to my Fundament, I felt it roll like a hot Wave of Misery. This gruesome History in which I had a moment before been taking such visceral Delight was now turned to Brussels Sprouts (the most disgusting thing that I could imagine eating at the time) in my Mouth. I had been so wrong – I must be a terrible Person.

Years later, in Conversation with my Mother, she revealed to me that I was (her Words), “an enormously difficult Child to discipline,” for, she said “if it was but pointed out to you that you had done Something wrong, you would spiral immediately into Self-Recrimination and Despair.”

Yes, I thought. That matches my Gasoline Mileage.

Still to this day, over Trivialities that no other Woman or Man would identify as worthy of an Iota of my Attention, I will spill uncounted Hours and drop hot Acid on the Foundations of my Self-Worth.

I am, often, undone by Shame.

Along with the Researcher/Storyteller Brené Brown, I share this Definition and Distinction between Guilt and Shame. And while I spend a nontrivial Percentage of my Time struggling with various Guilts, it is the Shame that still Waves over me like Surf on the Shore.

Four Years ago, in a music Shoppe in the Mall of Middletown, New York. I somehow made that poor Woman’s life more difficult, refusing to buy a Membership to the Store. I can still feel the Shame.

A Number of unwise, thoughtless, or intemperate Statements to various Paramours in my Youth. Some were quite cruel, and I feel the Sting of having said them as if they were my own.

The miniscule Lies, the grotesque Failures, the Moments when I let down my own Expectations of myself. Sometimes I feel myself drowning in them.

And let us not forget the incredible, indelible Shame of my over-hasty Marriage and appropriately-hasty Divorce, accompanied by a staggeringly great career Implosion. Neither Situation, romantic or professional, is irretrievable, but they certainly felt so at the time, and clawing my way out of that Pit of unworthiness is the Work of Years…if not of my entire Life.

All of this returns, again and again, to a central Point – a Question to which Life, qua Life, has yet to provide me an Answer.

Am I good enough?

My more loving and attentive Readers will (and have!) point out the Question itself is rather problematic, as phrased. Good enough for what? Or whom? By what Standard will I judge myself? Or be judged? Is not this Question rather Rubbish, as St. Paul would say (though our Translators have left Something to be desired in this Rendering)?

Yes, it is, though it has taken me some Time to acknowledge intellectually its Bankruptcy. And even then…it remains a central Conceit of my own life.  Am I good enough? ‘No,’ says some significant Portion of my Inner Council.

Take this, then, as the hideous Origin of my magnificent Journey of Faith. For Good or Ill, when consulted, I am at best a ‘lean yes,’ on ‘am I good enough,’ and at worst, a definite ‘no.’ I am undone by Shame.

What then?

 

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In caedem

I suppose that, after a Fashion, I might be considered a Faith Leader. Lacking a Community of which I stand in Leadership – excepting you, of course, dear Reader – I sometimes neglect the Fact. Nevertheless, I am a Teaching Elder of the American Church of Scotland, duly ordained by the Presbytery of Olympia on behalf of Christ’s Church. Thus it falls to me, unpulpited though I am, to speak in the Silence of the Unspeakable – to claim the digital Pulpit which is, I begin to suspect, my present Calling, and to use it in the Service of the One who ultimately called me.

Thus, today, I offer up an imperative Sermon to you, gentle Reader, to those persons of the Christian Faith to whom  I am privileged to preach. This Sermon is taken from the simplest, clearest, and most pointed Texts that I can locate.

First, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Fifth Chapter, starting at the Fourty-Third Verse*:

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies: bless them that curse you: do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which hurt you, and persecute you,

45 That ye may be the children of your father that is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to arise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.

46 For if ye love them, which love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the Publicans even the same?

47 And if ye be friendly to your brethren only, what singular thing do ye? do not even the Publicans likewise?

48 Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven, is perfect.

And then, my central Text, from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of the Exodus, the Twentieth Chapter, the Thirteenth Verse. Listen for God’s Word to you.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

Let us pray.

God of heaven, add unto us Understanding of your Word and Will for us. Even as your Children mistake and trample your Word, guide us in the Way that you would have us go.

Amen.

Do not kill People.

I am stunned, as ever, that I must specify this to you, gentle Reader. Whenever once again I am forced to address Murder on a massive Scale, I feel that my Kindred and I in the Clergy have, somehow, signally failed to impart even the most basic, simple Commandments. Thus, in the Wake of the Mass Shooting in Orlando, Florida, with fourty-nine Persons dead, a further fifty-three injured, in the Wake of this depraved Act of domestic Terror, in the Wake of this wanton Assault on the Lives of Revelers in a Space of Safety for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities, many of whom were persons of Latino or Latina descent, in the Wake of Murder most foul, once again, I fear that we, as a Priesthood, as a Community, as a Nation, as a Church, as a World, must reconsider, once more, this Commandment of the God of Israel, and its Implications for our Behaviour – to wit:

Do not kill People.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they are dressed.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they looked at you.

Do not kill People if you disagree with their public Behavior.

Do not kill People for Money, or Possessions, or Glory, or Honor.

Do not kill People because you do not like the Grade or Performance Review that they gave you.

Do not kill People because they break up with you, or will not yield to your romantic Ministrations.

Do not kill People because you regard them as impure.

Do not kill People because you believe them to be irreverent.

Do not kill People because you see them as unjust.

Do not kill People because you think them insufficiently compassionate.

Do not kill People because you feel that they are disloyal.

Do not kill People because they are gay. Or lesbian. Or bisexual. Or transgender. Or queer. Or intersex. Or asexual. For all of these identities and more, do not kill people.

Do not kill People because their Skin Color differs from your own.

Do not kill People to try and start a War.

Do not kill People because they do not worship your God.

Do not kill People because they do worship your God, but incorrectly, you feel.

Do not kill People because they hate you.

Do not kill People because you hate them.

Do not kill People because they have committed, or intend to commit, a Crime. Do not feel absolved from this – if it is in your Power to resist the Commission of a Crime, by all Means you should do so. But do, I beg, try not to kill People in the Process.

If it is possible to avoid doing so, do not kill People who are trying to kill you. Likewise, if avoidable, do not kill People who are trying to kill other People.

Do not purchase Weapons, place them in your Car, and drive somewhere for the express Purpose of killing People. If you do the first three things, neglect, please, the fourth, and do not kill the People.

Just, simply, and I know this might be rather difficult…do not kill People.

 

I know that this will, for some of you, present a burdensome Commandment. “Ah!” I hear you cry, “But what if I really must kill this Person, or this enormous Group of People, for the following excellent Reason!”

“No,” I shall reply. “Do not kill People.”I shall then point to the Passage in the Scriptures that commands you not to kill. Then I shall point at the Words of Jesus, the ways in which He lifts up not hating our Enemies, but blessing and praying for them. I shall note that we are to be different – better – than the ones who harass and persecute us. We are to be more good than our Foes.

This necessitates not killing them.

In short, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God, Daughters and Sons, Kindred of one another, in all your Ways and Walkings, in all the Turnings Life yields unto you, to the very best of your Ability…

…do not kill People.

The Word of the Lord.

Amen.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5&version=CEB
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=CEB

Apologia, pt. 0 – Introduction to Apology

In a much bally-hooed and now discredited scientific Study, Researchers claimed to have discovered that brief Conversations had significant Impact in altering the Opinions of Participants with regard to Same Sex Marriage. In short, actually talking to People, personally, could, indeed, cause them to shift their Stances of the great Issues of the Day.

As noted above, this Paper was retracted for poor Data. It is a Difficulty for me, however, as there is Something about the Conclusion that speaks, deeply, to my Experience. Perhaps it is merely a Desire of mine and of those like me, perhaps an eternal Truth, but I feel it in my Bones, that Persuasion starts – and ends! – in Community with a Neighbour.

I worry, from Time to Time, that in the Echo-Chamber of the Aethernet, where it is laughably easy to expose oneself only to those with whom one agrees, that now, having so divided our Society, it will become only easier for no one to change their Mind. From there it is but a little Leap to believe that I, too, might begin to fear any Disruption of either my Facts or my Beliefs.

As I remarked to an Interlocutor recently, one who was also forged in the Fire of Knowledgebowl (or Academic Decathlon, or Quizbowl, select for yourself your Flavour), good Facts matter. I strive always to project a Humility in Disagreement over Facts, because I would ever rather learn good Facts. If I am mistaken, I desire Correction, for, in Knowledgebowl (and, I submit, in Life), the Path to Victory is paved with correct Information. Persons who become defensive when disproved only serve to shut down Dialogue, and deprive themselves of Victory by means of willful Ignorance.

Of Opinions and Beliefs however, having distinguished them from Facts, I aim for a Flexibility that acknowledges the Road I took to get to them. I believe a Thing now, and can tell you how I arrived at that Belief. Tomorrow I may be presented with new Data, may be forced to change my Mind, and will need the Cartograph of that new Route.

For any Belief to which I can currently Point, there was just such a Road – an Onramp or Origin which brought me to my present Site. There were Turns or Bends or Dips in the Way, and each of these brought be closer to the Waystation – and, I pray, to the Truth, distinguished as well from Opinion, Belief, or Fact, each one.

Combining these two Points – the Instinct declaring that in personal Discourse we have the greatest Chance to bring Others to our Way of thinking, and that each of my Beliefs has its own Highway, it occurred to me that many – perhaps most – of you do not know my Story, the Route that brought me to my current Encampment. I write this Series to give myself the Opportunity to Change your Mind, if even by the smallest Degree, in hearing where the Man you know Today came from. Whether your Acquaintance with me harks from Secondary School, or University, or Seminary, or beyond, or you know me only as “that mad Bloke what writes like a Gentry-Cove of merrye ol’ England on the ‘Net,” I hope that this Apology* will be fruitful for you. I feel sure that it will be for me.

 

* The word “apology” comes to us from the Greek apologia, a Word back, or in Reply. I use it here in both the Modern and the Classical Senses, for this Document will contain not only an Argument and Narrative, but also my sincere Regrets, Griefs, and Shames. At some Points it will, perforce, resemble a Confession – and an undirected Request for Forgiveness. For this, in Advance, I apologize.