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Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses will give many who read it pause for thought. 

1 Timothy 3 is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the priesthood and women priests.  You won’t find these Essential Bible Verses in any Lectionary. 

Today’s reading comes from the New International Version.

1 Timothy 3

Overseers and Deacons

 1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

 11In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

 12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

 14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
   He appeared in a body, 
      was vindicated by the Spirit,
   was seen by angels,
      was preached among the nations,
   was believed on in the world,
      was taken up in glory.

———————————————————————

Paul sets out plans for church government in his two letters to Timothy and one to Titus. Scholars believe that Timothy was likely to have been an evangelist — meaning a travelling preacher — who eventually stayed in Ephesus, succeeding Paul, to take care of the new clergy there (Acts 20:28).  Paul had planted the church there, and the Ephesians were disappointed to find that they would never see Paul again (Acts 20:38).  Sensing their concerns about keep their new church pure, Paul arranges for Timothy to take his place.   

In this letter Paul discusses the qualities Timothy is to look for in ‘overseers’ and deacons. The word ‘overseer’ refers to priests, ministers, pastors, bishops and presbyters.  It is also synonymous in the Bible with ‘shepherd’ and ‘steward’.  To avoid any confusion, I shall use ‘overseer’ below.

Paul begins the chapter with the word ‘trustworthy’ (verse 1), meaning that Timothy should have no qualms about following the letter of the law on the type of man suitable as an overseer.  And, yes, it is about men.  This chapter, particularly verse 2 with the phrase — ‘the husband of but one wife’ — provides the principal source of the Christian case for male priesthood. 

Note that Paul says the ministry is a noble task.  He lays out the behaviours for an overseer, which involve one marriage and one wife.  (Serial marriage was common amongst Gentiles at the time.) He must have a temperate nature and not be given to excesses in emotion or drink.  Nor must he fall prey to greed (verse 3). Matthew Henry, the noted Bible commentator, says that this implies that an overseer  should display gravitas in order to be taken seriously. His family must also respect and obey him (verse 4).  Why?  Paul explains in verse 5 that if the overseer cannot manage his household, he will not be able to manage a church. 

Pay careful attention to verse 6.  Today, possibly because of a dearth of vocations or lax policies in seminaries, we have many ordained former atheists.  I can think of at least three and there are many more who have gone on to have large ministries.  Based on those whom I know, I have reason to wonder what the time lag was between their coming to faith and entering the seminary.  St Paul tells Timothy: ‘He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.’  A priest must keep pride and ego at bay.  New converts are not always capable of this because their knowledge and practice of the faith is not fully developed! 

Paul’s final counsel about overseers for Timothy is verse 7: they must not come with any baggage or stories about a questionable reputation.  An overseer must be blameless.  Matthew Henry tells us that the Devil takes advantage of human weakness, which damages the Church. 

The next five verses concern deacons and their wives (sometimes translated as ‘deaconesses’).  Verse 8 states that deacons must be temperate in drink and honest in their business dealings. They, too, must have a sense of gravitas in order to properly help the overseer. They must also be able to believe and practice their faith without feeling guilt or hesitation because of serious sins, past or present. Serious sin and the guilt it causes distracts us from faith in God and trust in His grace.  Furthermore, as the deacon was in charge of church finances, it was incumbent upon him not to have a love of money, otherwise he might embezzle.  Paul tells Timothy that he must test deacons before allowing them to serve a church (verse 10).  In other words, Timothy must be certain that the candidate is worthy of the job of serving Christ’s flock.  Judging good character and ensuring good behaviour is heartfelt and consistent takes time to discern. 

Their wives — deaconesses — must be equally of a serious character, deep faith and godly living (verse 11).  Any bad reflection on them is also bad for the Church.  The deacon’s household must be like the overseer’s (verse 12).  He, too, must have only one wife (again, no serial marriages) and be able to manage his household, including his children.  As Paul says in verse 13, a deacon who serves his church well deepens his faith and finds increased favour with Christ.  Matthew Henry says that a deacon would have the capacity to become an overseer after a suitable period of service to his church. 

So, this is why men of the cloth and their wives are such serious people.  When they are out in public, they are serving in their capacities for their churches and the Lord.  Therefore, please don’t expect them to be life and soul of the party.  Otherwise, how will you be able to take them seriously in matters spiritual?

Paul closes his letter (verses 14 and 15) by saying that he hopes to see Timothy as planned, but in case he should be delayed en route, at least his young evangelist has what he needs for his work in Ephesus.   

Verse 16, concerning the great ‘mystery of godliness’ is one upon which to meditate.  It explains why Christ is Lord — something to remember when people ask you why you are a Christian.  He is God manifested in the flesh; He rose from the dead; angels served Him; He is preached to the world, not a select few; the world believes in Him; He ascended to Heaven in glory.  Paul mentions the Ascension last to signify Christ’s sovereignty as King of Kings at the right hand of God.  On the use of the word ‘mystery’, Matthew Henry advises us:

It being a great mystery, we should rather humbly adore it, and piously believe it, than curiously pry into it, or be too positive in our explications of it and determinations about it, further than the holy scriptures have revealed it to us.

He also has notes about ecclesiastical terminology (link at the end of this post), which might interest you:

Observe, 1. In the primitive church there were but two orders of ministers or officers, bishops and deacons, Phil. 1:1. After-ages have invented the rest. The office of the bishop, presbyter, pastor, or minister, was confined to prayer and to the ministry of the word; and the office of the deacon was confined to, or at least principally conversant about, serving tables. Clemens Romanus, in his epistle to the Christian (cap. 42, 44), speaks very fully and plainly to this effect, that the apostles, foreknowing, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would arise in the Christian church a controversy about the name episcopacy, appointed the forementioned orders, bishops and deacons. 2. The scripture-deacon’s main employment was to serve tables, and not to preach or baptize. It is true, indeed, that Philip did preach and baptize in Samaria (Acts 8), but you read that he was an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and he might preach and baptize, and perform any other part of the ministerial office, under that character; but still the design of the deacon’s office was to mind the temporal concerns of the church, such as the salaries of the ministers and providing for the poor.  

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

It was bound to happen, and the thought crossed my mind last year.

Beginning in August, the Revd Tim Ross, a Methodist minister, will begin Communion by Twitter.  The Telegraph reports:

… worshippers are being invited to break bread and drink wine or juice in front of their computers as they follow the service online.

Churches usually require a priest to take the Eucharist, but the Rev Tim Ross, a Methodist minister, will send out a prayer in a series of Tweets – messages of up to 140 characters – to users of Twitter.

Those following the service are asked to read each tweet out loud before typing Amen as a reply at the end.

There is no difficulty having an online service without Communion, although how that would work in reality seems problematic.  However, a minister cannot consecrate bread and wine remotely.  Nor can a non-ordained person consecrate his own Sacrament. 

Revd Ross says:

‘Those who are from a high [traditional] church background might be concerned about whether this is a valued form of communion, but this is for a global community.’

The word he may be looking for is ‘valid’ not ‘valued’. Perhaps that is what he said, and it was misreported by a journalist who knows nothing about the topic. To orthodox Christians, this is a breathtakingly awful sacrilege against the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And, yes, I’m aware that Methodists view the Presence differently to Anglicans and Lutherans.  

Will the national Methodist Church authority where he lives (unspecified) will allow him to proceed? I hope they do not.  

Sadly, the Telegraph comment piece about this news is rather glib.  It would appear that a non-Christian wrote it, as the editorial writer does not understand Holy Communion or consecration by a valid minister.  One of the commenters thinks it’s a great idea, saying that astronauts have taken Communion into space.  (Undoubtedly, those hosts were consecrated before liftoff.)

I would welcome any clarity on this development from my Methodist readers, especially Revd Ross, should he happen to read this post.

Believe it or not, someone did arrive on Churchmouse Campanologist recently searching for an answer to this question.  The response below is from a Catholic and a Calvinist perspective.

First, for my Catholic readers.  When I was growing up, most of the priests I knew smoked — cigars, mainly, although they had the occasional cigarette.  Then, as I recall, sometime in the 1990s, John Paul II said that smoking was a sin.  Well, despite the best efforts of ASH, WHO and Tobacco Control, Catholic Answers tells us:

Smoking in moderation is not a sin at all (CCC 2290).

Those who smoke heavily (how much is unspecified) may wish (but are not obliged) to discuss the matter with their confessor.  Confessing venial sins of excess brings grace. 

I would add that underage smokers are sinning — although not mortally — because they are breaking the law.  Whilst they can still receive Holy Communion, they should stop smoking illegally.

The About.com Catholic forum tells us that Pope Paul VI smoked.  At Catholicism Pure, Fr Cumanus tells us that St Teresa of Avila, St Alphonsus Liguori and St John Vianney (the Cure d’Ars) took snuff, which was ‘the appropriate form of tobacco consumption for distinguished ecclesiastics’.

Now, to readers of a Calvinist persuasionThe Nicotine Theological Journal editors, John R. Muether and Darryl G. Hart, explain why their publication is so-called (emphases mine):

Now about our name.  Vice President Gore’s sanctimonious and tearful pledge to fight the wicked weed that produced part of his family fortune is but the latest example of the fierce public hostility to tobacco in our day. And it is another reminder of the necessity to explain why we employ the metaphor of tobacco for the purposes of this publication. We should begin by clarifying what we are not. This is not a Reformed version of Cigar Aficionado

Then why nicotine? First, in order to affirm the social utility of tobacco. As Wendell Berry writes, “Tobacco is fragrant, and smoking at its best is convivial or ceremonious and pleasant.” Smoke and drink are conversation stimulants and together they suggest the relaxed and engaging atmosphere that we want to establish for the arguments and topics you will find here. We also want to suggest that the kind of conversation that accompanies the moderate use of tobacco and alcohol is very important for sustaining us on our pilgrimage this side of glory. It may even be a foretaste of the fellowship we will enjoy when our Lord returns.

Second, tobacco exposes the hypocrisy with which people, including Reformed believers, treat the matter of health and well-being. The anti-tobacco crusade can be a convenient way to overlook the many other distractions of modern life — from sports, to entertainment, money, politics and sex. We have reduced health to mere physical health, but physical health is not man’s chief end. So the modern obsession with physical fitness and material well-being is often unhealthy. In this connection, we can hardly improve on the words of Garrison Keiller (whom we promise not to quote often), “nonsmokers live longer, but they live dumber.”

Third, the cultural antagonism toward tobacco mirrors well the evangelical dismissiveness toward confessional Presbyterianism. Our commitments to things like Sabbath and psalms can’t even gain a hearing in most evangelical quarters. (Raise a question about holidays like Christmas and Advent and evangelicals think you just arrived from Mars.) Like most smokers, confessional Presbyterians are feisty and cantankerous because that is the only way one can take the Reformed confessions seriously in our day. In the light of the ascendency of mass-marketed evangelicalism, it is necessary for confessional Presbyterians to be resistance fighters. Our resistance will often take confrontational, dogmatic and sectarian forms — and we believe in the good senses of those words. But we will endeavor to avoid arrogance and narrow-mindedness. So, for example, along with offering reflections about the value of Sunday evening services, we will also recommend a good blend of Scotch every now and then. And while we have yet to be persuaded of exclusive psalmody, we also remain unconvinced about the virtues of chewing tobacco; nevertheless, we will entertain arguments for both.

Finally, our name sets a tone of lightheartedness that we want to characterize these pages. The NTJ will be occasional and occasionally serious. Along the way we hope to have fun, not least by poking fun at ourselves. Several friends have asked if smoking and drinking are requirements for membership in the Old Life Theological Society. Of course, the answer is no. One can be an Old School Presbyterian in spirit if not Old School in spirits (though there are some things we will expose as irredeemably New School, such as light beer or any alcohol-free pretender). As for smoking, to borrow a phrase from Richard John Neuhaus, we only ask those who refuse to light up that they at least strive to lighten up.

How much is advised?  The Nicotine Theological Journal says:

Smoking two packs a day because you know you’re going to die anyway is not the best response to the blessings of this life (one pack should be sufficient).

So, to clarify, one pack a day to enjoy the blessings of this life. 

Dr R Scott Clark at Heidelblog uncovered a poem by a pipe-smoking Church of Scotland minister, the Revd Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) of Dunfermline:

Part Two: The Gospel
 
WAS this small plant for thee cut down!
So was the Plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
 
Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what’s the power
Of Jesse’s flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
 
The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon’s rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
 
In vain th’ unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heav’nly fire
The heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
 
The smoke, like burning incense, tow’rs;
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

 

I hope that answers any question Catholics and Calvinists might have about tobacco and sin.  For Methodists and Wesleyans, the answer may vary depending on how the doctrine of perfectionism is interpreted locally.  Having said that, it should be noted that:

Wesley was clear that Christian perfection did not imply perfection of bodily health or an infallibility of judgment.

In closing, recommended are 1 Timothy 4:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 10:31, respectively:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving:  For it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Via the Heidelblog, I have discovered that The Presbyterian Guardian is now available online.  The issues, from 1935 to 1979, have been scanned into PDF files.  I have added this link to my Resources section in the left-hand column.

Some of you will be interested in perusing this fine publication, which fought against the errors of Modernism. It featured the best OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) theologians and thinkers of the day, including John Gresham Machen (pictured), who was assailed by Modernist clergy as being rigid and inflexible in his orthodoxy.  (This is a story I shall explore at a later date.)

I’m reading the April 6, 1936 issue at the moment.  On page 2 is an article by Dr Machen wherein he discusses the ‘unpopularity of sticking to the point’ and recounts the conversation during which his opponents referred to him as ‘bitter’.    

You’ll also be able to read about General Assemblies, mission crises and the struggle to combat Modernism.  This is an excellent resource for those who wish to explore the early decades of the OPC and 20th century church history.

You may have occasion to attend an evangelical service which includes testimony.  These will be dramatic, personal stories designed to win converts via an altar-call: ‘Come forward if you want to be saved!’

The problem with conversion stories is that they might not always be 100% accurate.  Some church members regularly tell their journey of conversion.  After a time, they embellish.  What were interesting, true human-interest stories become incredible, shock-and-awe ‘testimonies’ which move further away from fact with each recitation.

R Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and who writes Heidelblog, explores this subject in light of the recent revelations about Ergun Caner, former Dean of Seminary at Liberty University.  Dr Clark was not always a member of the United Reformed Church but grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention. He was accustomed to testimonies. He describes the problem with this type of activity:

I don’t remember what I said the first time I gave my “testimony” in church. I do remember, however, the intoxicating feeling I had from being in front of 300 people eager to hear a good story. I remember the approval I received from the pastors and from others. It was a powerful inducement to make smaller details larger than they really were

Later, as a young pastor in a Reformed church, he participated in an Evangelism Explosion (EE) programme.  The problem of enhancing his testimony arose:

I embellished the story because the genre and program demanded it. If I didn’t have a story I couldn’t do the program and if I couldn’t do the program then I couldn’t do evangelism, at least not successfully. The tragedy of the entire Finneyite  aisle-walking, sinner’s prayer-praying model is that it’s about the wrong story completely.

So, you see the problem with personal testimony.  And this includes many ‘Christian’ books written in the first-person.  Although reading and understanding Scripture should more than suffice, many people say, ‘I read these books to enhance my faith’. However, as Dr Clark and his readers point out, these stories become about the authors themselves, not God and His infinite grace. 

Our full, uncompromising faith really is the conversion testimony.  Dr Clark explains:

That’s the only story we really have to tell. What we did or didn’t do before we came to faith, if we can even remember such a time, is inconsequential. Praise God many covenant children never remember when they did not believe. They feel no need to embellish their personal stories because they don’t live in an ecclesiastical culture where that sort of narrative is highly valued. Here is a concrete, practical difference between Reformed piety and conversionist, revivalist piety. The focus of Reformed piety is on the gospel and the gospel tells me that what matters most of all is not what has happened in me but what happened for me, outside of me, in salvation history. What matters most is that I believe it now.

Dr Clark’s readers concur.  Some of them were also told to embellish their testimonies in an evangelical setting because it was for the good of their church: more converts, more growth, more money.  Yet, as they now realise, their stories were all about them.

It’s well worth reading the post and the many comments in full.  There are cautionary tales among them.  Some converts committed greater sins to tell better stories.  Some told better stories every time and then moved backward into a truly dissolute life.  Even the lad pictured above, Marjoe Gortner, had a crisis of conscience in adulthood about his own embellished testimony.

Raoul Moat might not be a familiar name outside the UK.  He was recently the target of a lengthy police manhunt in Rothbury, Northumbria.  After his death, thought to have been by suicide, questions arose from a family member about the exact circumstances. 

Mr Moat — or Moaty, as he is popularly known in the minds of some and on the internet — may become England’s newest folk hero.  That’s not a good idea.  He was a violent, troubled man who exemplified Jesus’s words in Matt. 26:52: ‘He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword’.  Within hours of his death, at least one Facebook site appeared intended to laud this man who evaded the police for several days.  Although the page was later removed by its creator, a number of supportive messages in his memory appeared before many more condemning his actions were posted.  Now another page is up with 15,000 new messages.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron condemned this cultish devotion for Mr Moat and reminded the public that the gunman was a hardened criminal.  There was nothing laudable about him or his actions.  Yet, Moaty’s last days resonated in a strange, legendary way, not unlike the story of Ned Kelly.  Part of the reason might be to do with his name, which sounds as if it could have come from a Coen Brothers film.  The more important factor is that, like Ned Kelly, he defied and outwitted the long arm of the law. 

Even so, middle England is asking, ‘Why set up Facebook pages honouring a violent criminal?’  This post is by no means an apologetic for Mr Moat but will attempt, with some help, to explain the mindset at work. 

For the past 13 years, the average Englishman has experienced increased state interference even to the point where authorities are entitled to his DNA, including that of his children, and access to his former ‘castle’, the home.  Unless he opts out, his NHS medical records will be accessible by over 200 agencies across the UK.  Furthermore, he may have lost his job as it has been sent overseas or filled by a newcomer who is happy to accept less-than-standard UK wages.  Despite that, he has seen his taxes rise. On the high street, he has CCTV filming his every scratch of the nose. As far as entertainment goes, his local pub may have shut, since at least 40 close every week.  Whilst relaxing at home, he is bombarded by any number of public service announcements on the telly: he cannot drive properly, he commits benefit fraud and he doesn’t know how to eat healthfully.  He receives a letter from his child’s school telling him that his growing child is obese when he isn’t. He may be prosecuted for child abuse if his offspring doesn’t slim down. His children have mandated sex education at school far earlier than they should.  He reads in the paper about social cohesion and how he must alter his ways for those of people new to his culture and ‘community’, which isn’t a ‘neighbourhood’ anymore.  We’re all one big spied-on, communitarian island.  And ‘island’ describes how many Englishmen feel, where they must measure every word and action.

All this control is a form of neofeudalism.  Whereas before we were serfs doing the bidding of the local lord or the king and his men, we now bow to the Fabian state.  And many see no escape.  Even a university degree no longer guarantees social mobility.

So, the average Englishman counts for naught these days in the eyes of civil servants (!), the police and politicians. We must be got rid of or controlled. Many English have taken the hint and emigrated. Others wish they could.  Still others want to stay and see a return of civil liberties. Ergo, Mr Moat’s standoff with the police captured the public imagination.  (Of course, none of these reasons explains Mr Moat’s personal circumstances.  He lived in his own hell.)

Blogger Dick Puddlecote discussed the phenomenon in a recent post called ‘Moat, Facebook and the Failure of Political Discourse’:

As I never tire of mentioning, I grew up with working class people, I employ working class people, and I mainly socialise with working class people. The overwhelming feeling amongst them is that politicians are not interested in their meagre concerns. Nor will they ever be, as Nick Clegg recently illustrated with perfect clarity.

I’d venture to suggest that … initial motivation to blog may have had something to do with this ivory tower attitude from our politicians – I know it was for me … visitor figures are testament to the fact that millions of us feel that however loud one shouts, however hard one tries to point out that swathes of respectable middle and working class people are being blithely ignored … Politicians. Just. Don’t. Care.

… Owing to the electoral machinery described above, many of those who admired Moat have probably not seen a politician in the flesh for years. Even at election time they’ll receive little by way of literature, and their complaints will mostly be ignored if they are in an area of no electoral importance for the main parties.

They are fundamentally dissatisfied with how they are treated by the state, and their main interaction with the state is through the police. So when Moat leads the police on a merry old dance, he is ‘sticking it to the Man’ and, in their minds, is to be applauded.

It’s true that many of the working classes bring a lot of this misery on themselves by not voting, but their worries and concerns should still be addressed. Bullying and coercion to fit into a proper way of living as perceived by those who do vote only serves to further erode their trust in the system as a whole, makes their participation in the process less likely, and further escalates the anger and sense of isolation …

It’s the consequence of decades of being ignored; of being dictated to by those who they feel impotent in engaging with; of being bossed around by the state with no avenue of objection.

Rather than take the Facebook group as a sign of degenerative behaviour, maybe all parties should be looking at exactly why, for large sections of the public, a social networking site is now a more realistic method of registering dissent than petitioning a politician is.

In the Independent, columnist and television presenter Janet Street-Porter had this to say about Moaty and the Facebook phenomenon:

Frankly, I wouldn’t get too lathered about these incoherent ramblings – what we should be bothered about is the fact that a large section of our society feel like outsiders.

Just as we think crime is rising when it isn’t, the Moaty people are symbols of a deep malaise. Most of Britain wants to be middle class. This lot know they’ve not been invited to that party. They haven’t got fame, money or the stuff their working-class heroes such as footballers and pop stars flaunt. All they’ve got is the right to whinge and rant in cyber space. Unless politicians find a way to connect with them, the gap will only widen.

It’s impossible for the Coalition to undo 13 years of Labour oppression in 13 weeks, so I’m hopeful (and prayerful) that the Conservatives and the more thoughtful among the Liberal Democrats will delve into this area more over the next five years.  Disaffected Englishmen vote, too, and would like to think that they — and their future — really matter.

An ongoing debate between Catholics and converts from Protestantism concerns fellowship.  Ex-Protestants point out that Catholics should be friendlier.  Catholics respond by saying that they attend church in order to hear Mass and receive Holy Communion.  In short, if you think church should be about socialising, you should supplement your Catholicism with Protestant activities or start your own in the Catholic parish.

That, in any event, is what posters on the Catholic Answers Forum (CAF) seem to be saying.  Here is what one ex-Protestant says (I have edited the grammar slightly):  

Lady Mariegrace: I feel very defeated trying to explain my position – like stopping the flood of water with a sieve. I have been attending one of the largest Catholic churches in my city since 2004 and pursued an annulment, received it, my 2nd marriage was then considered valid but not convalidated since we were baptized persons when married, was received into the church Advent 2008 and am now divorced again. Throughout those years I have attended with my family en masse at least 1/2 the extra-curricular activities that pertained to us, did CRHP the full year, did a Catholic Marriage Encounter, attend reconciliation as well as my kids do too, participated in various Bible studies, meetings, conferences in the area besides my church (all Catholic) and did not make one friend that I could call on during my difficulties with my husband over all that time. I went to the pastor and a deacon re: our marriage problems and they had no answers except pray the rosary. I have sat in Mass and cried over the loneliness surrounded by people. No one said a word to me. I had to join a support group at a Protestant church to get anyone that I could reach out to during the abusiveness of my marriage. I have been raised as a Christian all my life, making a personal decision at the age of 13 and never walked away from it. Throughout the years I have taught Sunday school to all ages except adults. I was on track to become a small group leader at my church when my pastor died and that is the time I began to pursue interest in the Catholic faith. I have asked my RCIA leader, the religious education director about me using the gifts that I have for teaching and my extensive knowledge of the Word and because I have no experience in the church (I am an unknown) I was turned down. I might as well be invisible. I am a faithful Catholic Christian but there is a wall around which I cannot penetrate and you can call it whatever you want to and blame me somehow but I have done all that I know to do and know no other answers. I have to reach out to Protestants for any kind of fellowship, support, friendship during all this. I am welcome to go teach or pray or minister at their churches because I have a proven track record with them. I am sitting on the vine dying figuratively speaking and do not feel any hope for the situation so I will be faithful to the Church and the catechism and attend mass and I will get my needs met at Protestant church and live with that. I do not take their communion and I do not hide the fact that I am Catholic. Don’t you understand how that all hurts?

Sadly, no, Lady Mariegrace, they don’t.  Growing up, my dad’s work required moves around the country every couple of years.  I have seen a lot of Catholic parishes in my time.  They are cold places for those new in town.  My mother, a cradle Catholic, often despaired at the lack of friendliness there. She was also on the verge of tears from time to time. These were small town parishes, too.  It was only when I started going to Catholic schools connected with the parishes we belonged to that she made friends amongst the other mothers through playground duties and volunteering for bake sales. 

It’s a bit rich for Catholics to say they aren’t obliged to be friendly at church because they are going purely for Mass and Communion.  That’s an easy excuse to give, yet typical of the mentality I have observed over the years.  They further distort this by saying, ‘We don’t talk in church like Protestants do.’  That’s not what Lady Mariegrace and other posters are saying, though.  They are talking about a friendly hello at the door and an invitation to coffee in the parish hall after Mass.  Protestants often introduce themselves to you after a service has ended.  And as for carrying on conversations in church, I have been in only two Protestant churches where that actually occurs — one Methodist in England and one Reformed church in France.  I realise that Catholics are convinced theirs is the One True Faith, but there is no need to rip apart Protestants in the process with untruths. 

This is all quite sad.  How can one be a good Catholic without saying hello to someone they don’t know after Mass?  They hear a reading or sermon about welcoming the stranger (Lev. 19:34) and then promptly discount it by ignoring the one sitting next to them.  On the other hand, a Protestant will go out of his way to greet someone they don’t know and have a short conversation.  It’s simply putting one’s faith into practice.  It’s particularly important because we never know what’s happening with other people.  A welcoming smile and a hello could go a long way towards helping that person return the following Sunday or for a midweek activity. 

Does Christ expect us to receive Communion fervently at the altar then ignore His people just a few minutes later?  

‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34)

Over the past few weeks, Churchmouse Campanologist has explored the verses from Isaiah 40 which have been excluded from the Lectionary.  You can read more about these Forbidden Bible Verses in these posts: Isaiah 40:12-17  and Isaiah 40:18-26

Today’s reading concludes the examination of the chapter and comes from the New International Version.

Isaiah 40:27-31

 27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
       and complain, O Israel,
       “My way is hidden from the LORD;
       my cause is disregarded by my God”?

 28 Do you not know?
       Have you not heard?
       The LORD is the everlasting God,
       the Creator of the ends of the earth.
       He will not grow tired or weary,
       and his understanding no one can fathom.

 29 He gives strength to the weary
       and increases the power of the weak.

 30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
       and young men stumble and fall;

 31 but those who hope in the LORD
       will renew their strength.
       They will soar on wings like eagles;
       they will run and not grow weary,
       they will walk and not be faint.

——————————————————————–

As in the preceding verses, this final passage continues the theme of God’s sovereign glory and majesty.  The prophet has harsh words for God’s people, currently being held captive in Babylon.  This captivity is the Lord’s punishment for their lack of belief and trust in Him.

By using the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ in verse 27, the prophet is attempting to shame the people out of their sin by asking them to recall the past. He is asking them to remember the favour shown to the faithful Jacob and the deliverance afforded the chosen people of Israel.  Instead of condemning them outright, he asks them why they wail that God has forgotten them.  Even today, we so often blame our own transgressions on the Lord, when we should be blaming ourselves in many cases.  This is no different.  Where there is sin, there are consequences.  Admittedly, these were more directly from God in the Old Testament, but we would do well to draw parallels with problems in our relationships or with authority to our own shortcomings in dealing with them.  Having said that, God is always with us. If we only trust Him to help us right our direction, He will provide guidance through the Holy Spirit.  Trust, pray and discern!

The prophet reminds his people (verse 28) that the Lord is eternal; He alone created the Earth; He is indefatiguable and His mercy is everlasting.  As it was true then, so it is true now.  God will not forsake Christ’s Bride, the Church.  Yes, many of our congregations are in grave danger today, but ‘the gates of Hell shall not prevail against Her’. 

We may wish to consider meditating on this passage and chapter in particular in order to put God’s sovereignty at the forefront of our minds.  God was, is and ever more shall be, world without end.

He will keep us going, preserving us and His Church in the midst of our trials, tribulations and mistakes (verse 30), just as he did His people of Israel.  Let us, therefore, with glad hearts, remember that He loves us like a father.  If we renew a true hope in Him, He, in turn, will renew us (verse 31).  We will soar as if we were on eagle’s wings (whence the eponymous hymn derives). 

We shall not tire.  We shall continue to walk.  We shall never grow faint.  The Lord will see to it.

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

Every now and then I dip into the Times Education Supplement (TES) fora.

They have several interesting threads, past and present, on staff bullying.  I’ve chosen a few to share with you today which may help you, if you are being bullied, to understand what is really happening. Don’t miss yesterday’s entry featuring the author Robert Greene on this subject. 

First, what goes on in a bully’s — and your — mind:

You may not notice the bullying at first.  It gets camouflaged with objective language such as ‘departmental targets’, ‘improved hygiene’, ‘better standard of care’. 

You might be stressed and therefore become manipulated, that is, willing to do what the bully asks, even if you wouldn’t under normal circumstances — e.g. stay at work later ‘just to finish’ something, accept all sorts of last-minute, ‘urgent’ requests.  Please note that manipulation is not persuasion, although the line can be a fine one. 

The bully may be emotionally needy but masks this by being manipulative.  It is well known that many bullies pick on members of staff who may be carrying extra burdens outside the office: a chronically sick child or a housebound elderly parent who needs them.  These types of situations normally elicit an empathetic response among other members of staff.  The bully, however, sees any attention going to someone else as somehow being less for him. 

The bully targets subordinates who are happy, confident, experienced.  This is because the bully craves those qualities that his victim possesses. 

Second, why churches, hospitals and schools make good places for bullying to thrive:

Some bullying educators use religion as a mask to get away with mistreating their colleagues and subordinates.  They practice their faith, let you know about it and people then think, ‘Well, she can’t be so bad — she’s very religious, you know.’ 

Some clerics and church administrators can get away with bullying because they are connected with a religious institution.  Who will say that the vicar or pastor is a rum cove?  No one!  You have a problem with him?  It must be your fault.  ‘He’s a man of God, you know.’  Think back to my Rick Warren thread on dissenters.

The bully in a non-profit organisation — a school, church, hospital or charity — can often get away with his actions.  If they weren’t morally upright and caring, they never would have got the job, would they?  Of course not!  So, they can say ‘Trust me on this’ and everyone will believe them, when, in fact, they’re only out for their own egos and interests.

Third, what we can do about bullying:

If we see a peer bullying a subordinate, it is incumbent upon us to step in and say something.

We must resist the urge to buy in to a bullying culture, no matter what the excuse is, regardless of whether doing so would buy us an easier life.  And ‘buy’ is the operative word — bullying is costly as is cowardice and collusion.

Befriend people who are being bullied.  Offer to help in a quiet way, so that the bully doesn’t pick on his victim for being so weak that he’s making other people help him.

We can defeat bullying, but in order to do so, we cannot afford to be know-nothings.  Let’s show colleagues a Christian way forward through good example and friendliness.  We wouldn’t want to be indirectly responsible for a situation like this — an NHS nurse who recently committed suicide because of bullying in the hospital where she worked.  Deepest sympathy to her husband and children along with prayers for her peaceful repose.

In closing, Walking-Wounded.net is a Christian site for victims of bullying, including the workplaceBully Online is also a site for victims seeking support.  They have a page of case histories, many of which cover the public and voluntary sectors.

Let’s remember in our prayers those who are being harrassed and pray that they are able to recover their mental and physical health as well as obtain new jobs.

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong(Ps. 37:1) 

Bullying is no longer something we left behind in the school playground. It is becoming a distressing fact of life in many avenues of work.  There are now sites devoted to coping with this phenomenon, such as The Workplace Bullying Institute, which has a selection of articles and blogs designed to help victims.

What follows are the thoughts of Robert Greene, author of, among other books, The 48 Laws of Power.  Greene had a blog which he recently closed called Power, Seduction and War.  In it he covered power dynamics in various situations and had a particularly interesting post on work entitled ‘The Psychotic Boss’.  He wrote it in 2006, about the time when I, too, began noticing a sea-change in, as they say, ‘man management’.

Here’s a taster:

Let me spell it out: with the psychotic boss, nothing you do is ever quite right. They set traps, asking you to do things, and no matter how hard you think of accomplishing it in their way, it is wrong and you are to blame. This tends to instill a lot of fear in you. (The effect of unpredictability I describe in one of the laws of power.) There will be occasional explosions of anger, not too often, but which will stay in your mind for weeks. They start to occupy much of your mental space, as you go home thinking of what you did wrong, what you can do in the future, how to please, or deflect punishment. It starts to consume you. Nothing you do seems to improve the situation.

These types tend to be quite babyish and act real helpless. They are slightly disorganized. You must pay them a lot of attention, get them things that normal people could do for themselves. You must constantly think of their needs. One thing that is particularly maddening about them is that for others they generally present a pleasant façade. You will often be the only one to witness their ugliness, which makes it all the harder to complain to anyone about them.

I have found that a lot of these types can be very liberal; they are the ones supporting the best causes, standing up for women’s rights, or whatever it is that will enhance their appearance. This helps them justify to themselves their private nastiness to you. You are like a sacrificial victim to their power.

Female psychotic bosses can be particularly devilish. They will tend to mix in a lot of passive aggression, making you feel guilty for all kinds of things …

He’s right — they are definitely left-wing and espouse all the correct causes.  And, yes, they come across nice as pie.  They are generally disorganised and helpless: ‘Oh, print that out for me [something you’ve emailed to them!], would you?’  You wouldn’t be wrong for ending up disliking them.  In fact, Greene goes so far as to:

link these people in the WAR book to terrorists. They are using the same kind of strategy–inflicting a form of psychological terror that is larger than any physical or real threat. You find these types in relationships. You also find children now who use this strategy back at their parents, screaming and yelling with great violence. It becomes almost impossible to deal with, and so your only answer is to give in to them, to stop the terrorizing. Of course, this only feeds the process.

You can read a list of Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, which are modeled on Machiavelli and Sun-Tzu.  Most do not follow biblical precepts, although a few do, such as those which rely on wisdom, discernment and humility (I have supplied a selection of related Bible verses below — if you would like to cite others, please feel free to comment):

Law 1 Never Outshine the Master (Job 32:4-7, 1 Peter 5:5)

Law 4 Always Say Less than Necessary (Prov. 14:23, Matt. 12:36-37, 1 Tim. 5:13

Law 5 So Much Depends on Reputation. Guard It with Your Life (Prov. 22:1, 1 Cor. 15:33, 1 Tim. 4:16, Titus 2:7-8)

Law 10 Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky (1 Tim. 4:7, James 4:1)

Law 19 Know Who You’re Dealing With. Do Not Offend the Wrong Person (Prov. 19:1-3, Prov. 19:29Eph. 6:7-8)

Law 26 Keep Your Hands Clean (Amos 8:5, 1 Thess. 4:6-7, 1 Tim. 6:10)

Law 29 Plan All the Way to the End (Prov. 6:6-11, Prov. 20:18)

Law 36 Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is the Best Revenge (Gen. 3:6-7, Prov. 15:27Eccl. 1:2, Luke 12:15)

Law 46 Never Appear Perfect (2 Sam. 9:8, 2 Chron. 34:27)

Law 47 Do Not Go Past the Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When to Stop (Gen. 11:4, Eccl. 2:4-11

Of course, you may be in ‘combat’, but don’t be surprised if the bully wins in the end unless there is some form of divine intervention through ‘events’.  The bully knows his tactics better than you and has probably been honing them since childhood. 

If you are a victim, keep going with the help of frequent prayer and Bible study.  Also get your CV in shape and start applying for other jobs. 

Tomorrow: Analysing bullying in the ‘caring’ professions 

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