If you have never visited Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, you have missed visiting a truly inspirational place. It is a breathtakingly beautiful building, an edifice of stone, rich wood and soaring glass that derives much of its beauty from the surrounding landscape. It is also breathtakingly simple. Nestled in the woods, it was designed to pay homage to the improvised chapels found in the field, attended by those who bear the burden of war.
Last Wednesday was nothing short of a glorious spring day in Virginia. The skies were crystal clear, without a cloud, and vibrant blue. A warm breeze stirred the air. Springtime had brought the grounds surrounding the chapel to life. I was struck by how green the trees were, and by the sound of birds singing. And on this glorious spring day, several people had gathered for a private ceremony to dedicate the “Sacrifice” window in memory of Navy chaplain, and Medal of Honor recipient, Father Vincent Capodanno.
As a former theology student, and a Marine Corps historian, I have long had an interest in those chaplains who have chosen to serve with the Fleet Marine Force. Of particular interest to me were those who served in Vietnam. It was many years ago that I first heard of the “Grunt Padre,” Father Capodanno.
It’s a cloudless summer Sunday and the vast parking lots are filling early at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, 50 miles south of Los Angeles. New SUVs, guided by marshals, queue for the best spots before their occupants spill out happily into the sunshine, heading for a huge auditorium.
They make their way up imposing steps, past palm trees and crystal-clear waterfalls tumbling down artificial rocks. The children’s play area has a stream that parts like the Red Sea, courtesy of two invisible plastic sheets. On a nearby hillock, a replica of Jesus’s tomb has a hydraulic stone that can be rolled away.
The Saddleback campus, opened in 1992, has the eighth-largest congregation of any church in the United States – expanding from its first gathering of 200 in a high school gym in Easter 1980 to a current average weekly attendance of 17,500.
Inside, the only religious symbol is a wooden cross and, during the service, there is no communion and none of the familiar liturgy. Instead, there’s slickly executed Christian rock from a live band.
Saddleback’s founder is Rick Warren, 57, the US’s most famous pastor. He bounds across the stage wearing his trademark goatee, a black T-shirt, Converse trainers and jeans. He is preaching about self-examination: “If you’re doing something that’s messing up your marriage or destroying your finances, it’s because there is some kind of emotional pay-off. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s to mask your pain, maybe it’s to cover up a fear, maybe it’s an excuse to fail, maybe it’s to compensate for guilt.”
On a recent Sunday at the Beijing Zion Church, Pastor Jin Mingri laid out a vision for Christians in China that contrasts starkly with the ruling Communist Party’s tight reins on religion.
“Let your descendants become great politicians like Joseph and Daniel,” said Mr. Jin, referring to the Old Testament figures who surmounted challenges to become political leaders. “Let them influence the future course of this country,” the pastor said in one of several sermons to his 800-member church.
Mr. Jin is one of a growing group of Protestant leaders challenging China’s state-run religious system, in an escalating struggle largely unnoticed by the outside world. For the first time, China’s illegal underground churches, whose members are estimated in the tens of millions, are mounting a unified and increasingly organized push for legal recognition.
MICHAEL MUNGER, a professor of political science at Duke University, insightfully compares “tax expenditures” to the Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which fomented the Reformation by sending Martin Luther into fit of righteous pique. Mr Munger reminds us that
Indulgences were “get out of purgatory free!” cards. Of course, it was the church that had created the idea of purgatory in the first place. Then the church granted itself the power to release souls from purgatory (for a significant fee, of course).As Luther put it, in his Thesis No. 27, “as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out.”
If high tax rates are a sort of purgatory (and who doubts it?), then tax credits are indeed akin to indulgences. Mr Munger writes:
We let people out of tax purgatory if they own large houses, if they receive expensive health insurance from their employer, if they produce sugar or ethanol, or any of thousands of special categories. These categories have nothing to do with need (is there a national defense justification for a protected sugar industry?), but instead depend on how much these sinners are willing to pay to members of Congress.
“As the campaign contributions jingle into the campaign funds, the tax revenues fly out”, he adds. As a result, “we have categories within categories within subgroups, all at different prices, deductions or exemptions that release some elites from the published tax rates.
When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.
Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.
But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression–for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?
There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?
So we’re at that stage of life that many would, and have, described as “dying.” True enough, we’re noticing some of the icky stuff – creeping paralysis and numbness on the left side, and the weakness and reduced mobility that go with it. We have less stamina, particularly late in the day and there’s creeping fatigue – I’m napping and sleeping more. Things I used to do relatively easily are getting harder – dressing, getting in and out of cars, walking, especially late in the day.
That I’m able to do these things at all at this point in the progression of my disease has a lot to do with my “Heidi muscles,” the legacy of three years with trainer and rehab specialist Heidi Engel. She’ll be the topic of a post in the very near future, complete with her exercise regimen for dying people (yes, it makes sense!).
I wrote a few months back about some intriguing research on the power of gratitude, showing that people who kept “gratitude journals,” (keeping track of the good things that happen to them and things that they appreciate in life) not only reported better physical and mental health, their partners also noticed it as well (including reports that they slept better). A new study shows that the positive effect of gratitude on signs of well-being such as mastery, relationships with others, and self-acceptance happen over and above personality factors. Similar to the study of gratitude journals, this study by Alex Wood and his colleagues suggests, that regardless of one’s personality, taking time to notice and appreciate the good things in life can help all of us. This strikes as me as an especially important finding given the difficult times.
Here is the source and the abstract for those of you who want to know more:
The brilliant mind of Kevin Kelly wrote about the origins of science a few weeks ago (The Origins of Progress, Anachronistic Science). If you want to expand your mind, read Kevin Kelly, for his is one of the most significant voices of contemporary culture. But Kelly uses science to try and answer a question about science that perplexes him: Why was science “discovered” in Western Civilization and not before? It’s a fascinating question, and one that is terribly important for us today, because we’re at the beginning of the post-modern, post-colonial era in the West.
I’ve been studying and writing about postmodernism for over ten years, and I see the conflicts of a culture in change everywhere. I actually prefer the term “postcolonial,” because, from a practical perspective, it fits better. Colonialism is a top-down, “teach a man to fish” philosophy ideally suited to the application of logic, reason and science. Where it runs into problems is when the top wants to maintain its position on top, but I digress.
The thing that Kelly refuses to acknowledge — as do most people of science — is the role of faith in the origins of science, and that brings me back to Thanksgiving 2008.
We’re in the midst of a second Gutenberg moment, in which knowledge (The Jewel of the Elites) is spreading throughout the globe like a giant mushroom cloud, and I would argue that this significantly will alter any future projections, just as the first Gutenberg moment did centuries ago.