Satan, A.K.A. Lucifer?

Lucifer

Have you seen the new TV show, Lucifer? It is very entertaining, and I confess, with all the appropriate embarrassment, that I really enjoy it. Nevertheless, it is a combination of charming and horrifying.

In full disclosure, I voluntarily admit I am a Christian who absolutely believes the words of St. Peter in the New Testament, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). That’s the horrifying part of my above description of the TV show. As attractive and entertaining as the character, Lucifer is on the show, he/it also gives us direct flashes of the truth that he is the incarnation of evil.

The show is just a show, but I am an analytical person who happens to have a good theological education from two seminaries and a lifetime of Bible study. For instance, read on to the last portion of this essay, and I will explain, for those who are interested, from an academic point of view, that Lucifer is not really the same as Satan, and that he’s not really even a legitimate biblical person/character. As for the rest of this article, I simply cannot help analyzing this silly/scary character and TV comedy/drama. As Captain Kirk might say, “I HAVE to, Mister.”

Lucifer (in the show) is depicted as a person who is able to tap into the temptations of human beings and get them to tell him the truth about their desires and intentions. He drinks and parties ‘all the time,’ instantly seduces every woman he’s attracted to (except the female detective who plays his foil), is titillated by danger and totally lacks empathy for most of the characters hurt by such danger. He relishes his job as the punisher of those who meet his idea of Law-breakers. Occasionally, he drops the charming mask and reveals his true nature, reducing the meanest, harshest, most violent characters to trembling, screaming wretches in fear of hell.

Like the real Satan, depicted in the New Testament, this Lucifer, while appearing, outwardly to be a charming, witty, and loveable guy, is far more complex than his exterior persona. He is handsome and desirable on the outside (a veritable angel of light), but every now and then, he reveals his horribly ugly inner self to those he wants to torment. He is focused totally on his own desires, importance, whims, and so forth, but makes others think he is focused on them. Unlike the Bible version, he occasionally appears to be growing a conscience and a decent heart, which is TV’s latest ploy (starting with The Sopranos, I guess) to insure that the character, while really, really bad, can be “liked” by the audience. Some other examples of sociopaths that TV and ‘the movies’ have presented as possessing redeeming qualities include the title character on “Dexter,” the wicked queen, Mr. Gold and other characters on “Once Upon A Time,” Dr. House on “House,” and the title character in the new Marvel movie, “Dead Pool.” Trust me, there are many more in the same category on TV and in Hollywood movies.

As I said in the beginning, I enjoy the show, but I have to say it is disturbing to think of the affect it could have on the masses of Americans who get most of their education from TV. I worry that entertainment like this may confuse many things in the minds of people who will arrogantly challenge the greatest truths from the brightest minds, yet accept any sort of drivel on TV as “reality,” (including certain ‘news’ shows). The current election process has displayed several candidates who make a great deal of noise designed to bring out passionate emotions with no real content or solutions at all on the complex issues facing most of us. Incredibly, those are the candidates who are attracting the allegiance of the masses.

If the result of the charming, witty, funny “Lucifer,” is that most of the TV watchers of America begin to believe that down deep, Satan is really a nice guy (you know, like Tony Soprano and Dexter), the makers of the show could not have done more to place those people in danger should they ever face the real “prowling lion” Peter warned us to avoid.

Anyway, now that I’ve “gone to preaching,” let me move on to clear up some confusion in the minds of those who still think Lucifer is a legitimate biblical character. Maybe he is, because King James’ translators decided he is, but maybe he isn’t since all the evidence from the original manuscripts that were translated into our modern Bibles says the name is a mistake in translation, and they make a darn good case for that.

There is much argument and debate among both conservative and liberal Bible scholars as to whether Lucifer and Satan are the same being. Some interpret Isaiah 14:12 as referring to Satan, described in Luke 10:18 as falling from heaven like lightning. And it may be referring to Satan, but not to someone named “Lucifer,” even though the KJV scholars translated the manuscript words as if they were a proper name. While there is little direct evidence in the original Hebrew manuscripts that an angel with the name Lucifer is anything more than a confusion about a ‘description’ of such a being (misinterpreted or mistranslated by St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430), Tertullian (A.D. 155-240), and St. Jerome (A.D. 347-420), some of the early Church fathers), most Christians think of Lucifer as an alternate name for Satan.

The same idea is assumed in the popular literature, even as far back as Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1472) and Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). The manuscripts from which all versions of the Bible are translated do not contain the proper name, Lucifer. They contain a description of a being who fell from heaven, comparing that being to Venus (the morning star). The Hebrew word can be translated “light bearer,” and the aforementioned Church fathers decided to translate those words as a proper name in the absence of any other proof. The scholars King James hired to translate those manuscripts into the King James Bible followed that same tradition, but modern scholarship has refused to do so in the absence of any legitimate evidence that Satan was also known as Lucifer.

To add to the above confusion, there are abundant legends (or speculations) created by Christian and Jewish writers from the early centuries A.D. that provide a totally non biblical account of Lucifer’s rebellion and expulsion from Heaven. They seem to be influenced by Greek and Roman mythology about their ‘gods,’ e.g. Zeus/Jupiter, Hades/Pluto, and many others, and stories of betrayals, demotions, and other related issues.

These extra biblical (as in not from the canonized Bible) stories come from imaginative storylines constructed by pasting together passages from various places in the Old and New Testaments as divergent as Job, Isaiah and Revelation. These form an assumed continuous history of rebellion in Heaven and the characters that were supposedly involved. They refer to Lucifer as a prideful angel who was the chief in the hierarchy of heaven and as above all other created beings.

Depending on which stories one reads, or which modern Christians’ points of view one accepts, Lucifer takes on a wide variety of characteristics and flaws, but most are agreed that his main downfall is pride. The only problem is that a plain reading of the Bible, especially in its original form of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, does not provide this exact story. It only provides hints that can be put together in a variety of ways, depending on the imagination of the editor.

I’d like to make one last point about the TV show. It is very interesting to me that the title character refers to God as “his father.” The feeling is much more akin to the relationship of Zeus and Hades or Jupiter and Pluto than of Satan and God Almighty.

There are 5 places in the Bible that angels are referred to as “sons of God,” and Bible scholars (including those from the earliest centuries of the Church) have been trying to explain them away for at least the last 2,000 years. The five texts to which I’m referring are:
  1. Genesis 6:1-4, where the ‘sons of God’ “saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose;” and “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
    1. This is a strange story that sounds so much like the mythology of gods (from Mt. Olympus or other myths) fathering children with humans. Scholars consider it legends that crept into Scripture in an ancient world where monotheism was a new concept.
    2. Perhaps it has meaning for Jews, Christians and Muslims (who all agree the OT is Holy Scripture), but the problems with it are difficult to resolve, e.g. Jesus indicated angels to not marry and the implication is they do not reproduce, so how did this happen?
  2. Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-6 where the first passage begins, “One day the sons of God” (the Hebrew is translated into ‘angels’ by some modern versions) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came with them;” and the second passage (which is a second meeting of God, the sons of God/angels and Satan) begins, “On another day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.”
    1. These two passages are strange as well, in part because the same Bible translators that translated the Hebrew words in Genesis 6 literally as “sons of God” in Job translated them angels. Additionally, this story is unique in the Bible in that it gives us a picture of Heavenly board meetings or court sessions where God marches his angels in to report on matters related to humans.
    2. Here, Satan is not called Lucifer, or described as a “light bearer,” rather, he appears to be some sort of prosecutor or investigator who “roams the earth and goes back and forth in it.” God allows Satan to “test” Job’s faith in both stories, by inflicting the worst hardships a human being can endure: loss of family, loss of worldly belongings, and loss of health.
    3. This story is also considered to be legendary in quality and character, perhaps far older than the Hebrew people, but adapted by the author of Job to describe true faith in God in a personal vignette.
  3. Job 38:7, is out of the long passage where God chastises Job for questioning God’s actions. The verse in question says, “while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
    1. Again, in this passage, the Hebrew words on the original manuscripts are as I have written them (sons of God), but several modern Bibles translate them instead to ‘angels.’
    2. You can imagine as well, that stars do not sing, and we know that the description of Satan that resulted in misnaming him Lucifer (in Isaiah 14:12) was describing him as one of the “morning stars,” which probably refers to, not a star, but the planet Venus. Nevertheless, when the Bible mentions stars singing, it is obviously talking poetically (or mythologically) about angels.
    3. Revelation 12:3-9 refers to Satan as an enormous red dragon. “His tail swept a third of the stars (angels) out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” Later in the passage it tells even more about this casting out of Heaven of Satan and his angels: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
    4. When you read THIS description of Satan, Lucifer from the TV show takes on a far more malevolent demeanor and personality. The TV Lucifer is more like one of Zeus’ tragic sons than the evil, originally heavenly being who decided to rebel against God and to test, torment and damn God’s children.
    5. Psalm 29:1 and Psalm 89:6 refer to “heavenly beings” or “sons of the mighty,” or “angels,” or “sons of God,” depending on which translation you read.
      1. When one compares all these efforts at translating the same Hebrew words that clearly say “sons of God” into something more palatable, it is clear that ancient and modern Bible translators had trouble with the concept of angels being known as sons of God.

If I were to do justice to this paper, it would be a good-sized book, incorporating much theology, mythology, and history of the Bible and it’s peoples. If you’re sort of interested, I recommend you Google some of the keywords in my essay. If really interested, you should take out a few books on the subject from a good library.

Text copyright © 2016 Robert B. Clemons III

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I Am Not God, Thank God!

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If I understand the great Christian existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard correctly, he said, in his book, Either/Or, that the essence of the relationship between a human being and God, that grants security and frames the nature of eternal salvation, is in truly assimilating this one point: “Against God, we are always in the wrong.” I am not going to present his long, logical, but laborious  steps in arriving at this position, because, unlike me, most people do not like reading so many words that merely make one concise point, but I do hope to put it in plain language that at least I can better understand.

Kierkegaard, in making his point, in no way dismisses or reduces the importance of the atonement of Christ. He was, to the end, a devout believer in Christ, though absolutely disgusted with the Church of his age as he perceived it. He is the one who gave us the wonderful metaphor for faith in Christ when he pointed out that reason, such as that of St. Anselm and St. Aquinas, will only take us so far in accepting God, and that when we have gone as far as reason will take us, we must “take a leap of faith.” Far from disparaging our need of a Savior, he was stating that until we realize we are completely unable to save ourselves, we do not have a saving relationship with God. He was a firm supporter of the New Testament concept, “by faith (in Christ) we are saved.”

Nevertheless, Kierkegaard, in analyzing the dynamics involved in Salvation, says it is of no importance or relevance for us to hold the position that in relation to us, “God is always in the right.” He says that is an obvious statement that says nothing about one’s dependence upon God for salvation. We must realize, and embrace the truth that, in relation to God “we are always in the wrong.” There is a subtle, but extremely important distinction, between those two descriptions of our stance toward God. We may set a code of rules, aim for total righteousness, do what we can to always do right, but that is not enough. Kierkegaard considers it obvious that there are no circumstances that can be imagined in which a human being can become holy, in the sense that God is holy. As we present ourselves to God, “we are in the wrong.” Apart from that stance, there is no salvation.

Why? I believe Kierkegaard was saying that, as long as we believe we may be able to save ourselves by following rules, doing right and, as he says, “doing what one can,” we do not really believe we need God. This was, partially at least, the sin of Satan that got him cast out of Heaven (Luke 10:18). His sin was to presume that he could take God’s place. In essence, God was not necessary in Satan’s mind.

Hubris is the phonetic spelling of the original, Greek word that refers to extreme pride and unrealistically positive evaluation of one’s competence and importance. It is not difficult to find examples of human hubris. All one needs to do is look to Hollywood, political leaders, and yes, certain celebrity preachers. A human being who is truly charismatic may be a powerful force for good. But a human being with that kind of charisma mixed with hubris, is a mortal example of the Satan who fell from Heaven, whose goal is to lead the human race to destruction. The most famous 20th century example of such a man is Adolph Hitler. Just as the New Testament describes Antichrist as a wolf who comes in sheep’s clothing, sociopathic leaders like Hitler present themselves, at first, as saviors.

We are living in dangerous times. Throughout human history, men of great charisma, but with personalities defined by extreme hubris, have arisen on a relatively regular schedule, to present themselves as saviors. They follow a similar pattern. First, they convince their countrymen, then a large portion of the world, that they offer great solutions to the problems of common humanity. Then, step by step, gradually, like the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water, they take humanity to the depths of degradation and despair. I fear (not saying I’m sure, but I fear) that we are living in a time that is ripe for such a leader to arise.

It has been around 80 years since Hitler began laying the groundwork for his ascension to power. As you  study the national and international scene today, do you see men of hubris stirring the coals of the bonfires of Hitler’s vanities? Do you see and hear individuals in the public arena promising easy solutions to complex problems? Do you hear promises being made of miraculous resolutions to intractable dilemmas without any description (or even hint) of a plan for actually accomplishing fulfillment of their guarantees? Have you heard voices who want to be elected, use language that stirs you into thinking that certain other groups in our society are the enemy, and must be ostracized or eradicated? Are there charismatic speakers on the public scene telling you that the productive, right, good, smart thing for America to do is to go to war somewhere–that then your problems will be solved and your life will be better? These have always been the voices of human hubris. They are the voices of individuals who believe they can unseat God.

How can we protect ourselves against those individuals who believe they can unseat God, at least in this Earthly plane? I think we must remember, that “against God, we are always in the wrong.” If we put our faith in some human being who is promising to solve our problems in negative, destructive, selfish, greedy, hateful ways, we are playing into the hands of brilliant human hubris. That has never worked out well in the past. It will not work out well for us in the present or the future. No one who uses Hitler’s manipulative promises is a real Savior.

Nobody ever makes it to the point of actually running for the office of President of the United States who does not have some element of egotism. It requires a tremendous ego to withstand the constant scrutiny of the public and the barrage of daggers thrown from critics, competitors and actual enemies who want to unseat such persons. But there is a desperate, crucial difference between the good leader with a huge ego, and a flawed leader full of hubris. The latter types have consistently led their duped followers to ignominious decline, if not destruction.

If you are a sincere believer in God, remember the wisdom of Kierkegaard. The moment we believe we have a Savior other than God, we have no savior at all; least of all a selfish human savior.

I hope you will consider sampling and buying my novel, The Hiroshima Agenda, which you will find by clicking: www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXCVODO Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Do We Need to Lay Carpet or Go to War?

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If you know that the three angles of a particular triangle add up to a total of 180 degrees you have a specific piece of knowledge. But if you know that the angles of any triangle you come upon equal a total of 180 degrees, you have valuable understanding that will save you from having to measure the angles of every triangle you ever see. If nothing else, it could save you a lot of time and energy to have an education in such things.

Similarly, how do you know the area of a circle (maybe you want to put a floor covering on a round room)? Multiply pi (roughly 3.14) times the radius of the circle squared. So if your circle has a radius of 10 feet, its area in square feet would be 3.14 times 100 feet (10′ squared) which equals 314 square feet. If you used a more exact number for pi (say 3.141592653589793) you’d come out to 314.1592653589793 square feet, so the easiest thing to do is buy enough to cover 314.16 square feet of flooring.

I’m just saying that it’s nice not to have to rediscover the most efficient ways to accomplish complex tasks that people who lived long before us already discovered. A= pi times r(squared) ALWAYS gives us the area of a circle. But if you apply the same type of wisdom toward other subjects, such as history, you could accept this piece of wisdom: “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” That applies as common sense when faced with a situation like how expensive the repercussions of war turn out to be every time. America is still paying the medical cost (as one example of the costs) for Vietnam.

I have friends who still travel to Charleston or Columbia, SC VA hospitals every month to be treated for the physical and psychological wounds they received in Vietnam. The financial cost of waging the Vietnam War at the time came to around $500 million (several billion in today’s dollars), but that was a drop in the bucket compared to the other costs we’ve incurred since then, because of the war. The money we have spent on wounded warriors in a variety of ways including medical, training, prison for many, homelessness for many, inability of many to contribute to society in a productive way, programs for all, and so on, has been in the trillions (if it can even be calculated). Yet, we were ready to jump into all the versions of the Gulf War since back in 2001 (don’t kid yourself, almost all of us were for it after 9/11), when other, less expensive, more successful measures could have been pursued to bring the villains to justice.

Now, again, we have people calling for the same unsuccessful, impossibly expensive responses to the same emotional issues. Isn’t the area of a circle still solved in the same way that has historically worked instead of trying to solve it by the formula for the area of a square or by the formula for relativity. We need to study our history of how much war has cost us. How much better might we have spent that money? During times when the powers that be were not in our faces telling us that we needed to go to war with smaller countries, because they were challenging or offending us, were times when we did not incur massive debt and we did accomplish more productive works for the good of America and the world.

As WWII was waged, the freedom and national geography of all the people on Earth were at risk. That was a war that had to be fought. Monsters were attempting to devour the world. Since then, America has gone to war with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Trillions have been spent conducting those wars . . . Why? What purposes did they serve?

The reason we continue to use pi times radius (squared) to determine the area of a circle is that it always works. Why do we continue to listen to the voices (always with hidden agendas) who are inflaming us to go to war over differences and offenses that can be handled in better, cheaper ways with little or no loss of life? A well worn saying goes, “Follow the money, and you’ll know why.”

Who profits (financially) when we spend lots of money conducting a war? I’m not going to name names, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the typical taxpayers struggling to make ends meet, or even the ones that are making a reasonable income with secure retirements awaiting them. I’m pretty sure it’s the people who sell the implements of war and all the supplies that must be shipped to where the latest war is waged.

Now, I’ve got to go to Lowes. My wife wants me to buy carpet for our rectangular shaped bedroom. Hmm, I wonder if I should use my formula for the area of a circle to figure out how much carpet to buy. What do you think?

BTW, I know a little bit about being in a war. In 27 years of military service I served in Vietnam (69-70), the First Gulf War (90-91), Operation Just Cause (1989), and a few other military operations most civilians would not recognize. My assessment is that they were all a big waste of money, property, natural resources, human relationships (including countless marriages), and lives. If you’d like to read my book, which, even though it is science fiction, is based on my year in Vietnam, and speaks about the evils of war and the forces that profit from war, you can sample and/or buy it by clicking this: www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXVCODO

You may find other essays, poems and photography I have created at realitystudies.wordpress.com which you can get to by clicking the link in this sentence.

Military Chaplains and the Holy Mystery of the Call

Note: This article was first published in the Chaplain’s journal, Curtana.

The nature of God’s call upon individuals is a holy mystery. I think this strange action of God is incomprehensible to those who have never received it. However, it is also never fully dissected by most of us who have felt the great talons grasp us from on high and carry us to thoughts and processes we may not have fathomed before God revealed to us we were set apart for service.

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The same beloved family members who were elated that I accepted my call into pastoral ministry as a 25 year old, were mystified when I informed them thirteen years later that I felt God was directing me into military chaplaincy. My dear Grandmother, with a look of despair on her face asked me, “But Robert, why are you leaving the ministry and joining the Air Force?”

The extraordinary truth is those two aspects of my call are not only “connected” but merely two of a yet unknown number of different tributaries of a mighty river that surges through every part of my being. One that continues to cut new channels where and when I least expect them. I hope that as I unfold this personal thesis, you will see common ground, areas of disagreement, perspectives that set you thinking deeply, but no reasons to engage in angry, religious debate. At 65, with 40 years of intense self-searching and perhaps more intense God-searching, I find angry religious debate to be totally useless and unpleasantly damaging to all involved.

Since, this is an article in a journal that serves chaplains, let me begin with my calling into chaplaincy, even though I did not become an Air Force chaplain until I was 38 years old, which places that ministry 12 years after my entry into ordained pastoral ministry. Actually, it is fitting to address this early, because it is the heart of this article.

One of the most painful chapters of my life began when at 19, married for nine months to the same beautiful girl I am still in love with today, I was required to join the Army, go through nearly five months of training, followed by a one year tour of duty in Vietnam. The main pain I’m speaking of is not being in a war zone, but being separated from Phyllis almost continuously from February 10, 1969 until return from Vietnam on July 25, 1970.

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I was part of the Army Security Agency (ASA), which at the time was the Army branch of the National Security Agency (NSA). ASA members were among the first American military members in Vietnam. All of us possessed high security clearances due to the sensitive nature of our work. My clearance was Top Secret/Cryptographic (TS/Crypto). We were not allowed to discuss the nature of our individual responsibilities with anyone without a need to know, and that included the unit chaplain. As anyone in such a job knows, it is a lonely position in which to be.

 

IMG_3001The first time I saw Chaplain Wesley Bassen was within days of arriving in Saigon. I was immediately captivated by this giant of a soldier with a radiant smile that was easy to see long before I noticed the cross on his Superman shaped chest. He made me feel like he was serving in Vietnam just so he could be there for me. That’s not what he said, of course, but it is what I felt.

My twelve to eighteen hour work days were spent in the most secure building in Saigon, surrounded by concrete walls that were several feet thick and totally windowless, handling materials most of which were stamped Top Secret. Most of that year I saw very little sunlight, but it seemed to me that every time I was out of our classified work location I ran into Chaplain Bassen. For me, he was like an oasis in the desert. While I could not discuss any work issues with him, I was able to pour out to him my heartaches about missing my wife, the interruption of my life goals, and the strange feelings I had in my soul about God wanting me to become a minister.

We were required to work six and a half days per week. I was able to get my half- day off on Sunday mornings and made it a point to be in chapel every week. Over the course of those twelve months, Chaplain Bassen touched my soul with nothing more than a caring, sacrificial heart, and nothing less than God’s touch through one of His faithful servants.

One of the issues we spent much time discussing was my calling into ministry, which for me was still far too primitive to result in more than wonderment and talk. But he saw something real in all of my fog and wrote several letters to the pastor of my home church. He also corresponded with a previous pastor who had been there when I began feeling even more primitive versions of the call as a fourteen or fifteen year old. I would consider it treasure equivalent to gold to possess those letters, but unfortunately, I never saw them. They were, after all, not directed to me, but to the pastors whom Chaplain Bassen made sure were aware of God’s influence upon me. I still marvel, especially when I think of the shortcomings of my own ministries, that he invested the time to send letters to those civilian pastors who were my shepherds back home.

What I do have is one letter from my local church pastor (Rev. Michael Fryga, now deceased), who wrote me near the end of my year in Vietnam. He covered a number of personal areas of interest such as my extended family, the unusually cold (for South Carolina) winter they had just been through, and how much help my wife was in various church events. In the last paragraph of the letter Rev. Fryga said,

“We have received communications from time to time from Rev. Wesley A.G. Bassen. He tells us of your good attendance and receiving Holy Communion at the services.”

I received another letter from the other pastor I mentioned, who coincidentally was also an Army Reserve Chaplain. He retired years later as the Reserve brigadier general, serving directly under the Army Chief of Chaplains at the time. That letter is one of the lost needles in twelve large haystacks (actually file boxes) of papers and mementoes from my forty years of professional ministry that I still aspire to mine for treasures. However, I remember clearly what he said:

“Chaplain Bassen has written me several letters discussing your sense from God that He is calling you into ministry. I recall that the Lord started that process with you while I was your pastor in Andrews. I look forward to assisting you when you are ready to begin the process of education and ordination as a United Methodist minister.” 

That pastor, Rev. George Fields stood behind me the day I was ordained as an Elder in the UMC, and laid hands on me along with the bishop as the Conference joined in the prayer that the Holy Spirit would empower my ministry.

These two threads in the fabric of my life demonstrate the interconnectedness of God’s call upon my life, and how the chaplaincy is wound through it tightly. But the fabric is far more complex than these two individual threads.

A Surprise at the Seminary

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In the Methodist tradition we baptize infants. I was baptized a few weeks after I was born in June of 1949. The pastor of our local church had served as a chaplain for the duration of World War Two. That may not seem like a very long thread, but it gets longer. Twenty-five years later, when I started seminary, I needed a job to help support my wife and our daughter. The pastor of a large Methodist church just a few miles from the seminary was looking for an Assistant to the Minister as the position became vacant just a few weeks before I was to begin my seminary training. I started that job and my first day of seminary education on the same day, September 1, 1975. The pastor was the same World War Two chaplain who had baptized me in my home church. During the year I worked for him, we had many discussions about the ministry he provided as a chaplain during the war.

I don’t know if this experience is common to all seminary students, but on the first day of classes I was with friends in the student union when members of our UMC endorsing agency arrived. They said they were there to talk to any of the new students who might be interested in serving as chaplains after their educational process was finished. A Voice within me said, “I want you to become a military chaplain.” I cannot prove to anyone that voice was God, but I thought it was, and the truth is the thought horrified me. I was not ready to deal with the thought of going back into the military in any capacity. Nevertheless, I attended the meeting and stored away the things I heard there.

I was ordained one year later with what the UMC calls Deacons Orders. This is a first level of ordination a UMC minister receives at a certain level in his progress toward Elder’s Orders and full Conference Membership. With that ordination I also became pastor of a country parish about eighty miles from the school I attended. At that parish and in the two others I served during the following eleven years, I had military retirees and Reservists in each parish. This was true even though each congregation was at least two hours from the closest military bases. Every one of them told me I should become a military chaplain. They observed gifts in me they felt would contribute to that ministry. While I wasn’t ready to answer that call for over a decade after first hearing that, I believe God was speaking through their witness.

In 1986, I became convinced God was determined I would become a chaplain, and I submitted the official paperwork thinking, “They’ll never take me—I’m too old to begin military service.” What I was told is, “No, we could take you, even up to 40 years of age, but the UMC has no open slots for active duty chaplains. We’ll put you at the bottom of the stack of all the others who are applying for a slot.” (At that time, there were thirty others ahead of me.)

I applied for a Reserve slot in the Air Force about a year later (when there still were no open slots for active duty United Methodist chaplains). I thought that would probably satisfy God. I got accepted into the Reserves immediately, but there were no openings in the next Chaplain School at Maxwell Air Force Base, which was to start a couple of months later.

Unknown to me, another one of those fibers was working its way through the weave. It turned out that the UMC chaplain who had interviewed me for endorsement by the UMC also happened to be the Commandant of the Chaplain School, and when he found out I wanted to go, he simply made another seat available.

Those four weeks at the Chaplain Service Institute at Maxwell AFB yielded an amazing truth in my journey: I absolutely loved the chaplaincy, I loved the Air Force, I loved everything about what I was learning and doing, and the people I was meeting during the four weeks of training. From that point, it was not God putting the pressure on me anymore. It was me putting the pressure on God: “Please open up a slot for a UMC chaplain to get into the USAF.” At that point there were then over forty UMC ministers who had met the credentials to be eligible for a slot and who desired one. But there were no positions available.

On 1 February 1988 I called the Office of the Chief of Chaplains for the USAF to ask if there was going to be a slot for a United Methodist Minister to go into the USAF. In my old age I realize that was a desperate and audacious thing to do, but back then I did it without a second thought. I didn’t get to speak to the Chief of Chaplains personally, but whoever it was I spoke to gave me a heartfelt and tender, while to the point and clear cut answer: “Honey, we have three open slots for chaplains for this year, and none of them are for a United Methodist.” When I hung up the phone, I actually broke down crying.

That year was a leap year. I will always remember that, because it was February 29th of that year, that Jim Townsend, our endorsing agent, called me at my office. I had talked to him many times and had sent many cards and letters reminding him I wanted a shot at any slot they got. Jim said, and I will remember this verbatim till the day I die, “Bob, we got one slot today, a miracle slot, and it’s the only one we anticipate getting for a long while. We have been through forty applications today of ministers just like you who want a chance to go into active duty service in the Air Force, and all three times your name came up to the top. It’s your slot if you want it.”

I knew then, and I know now that I was not the best candidate. I have never beaten out forty other competitors in anything. I recognized clearly then, and I know clearly now, that God made that slot for me.

It’s Not Our Call, It’s God’s

On the surface, this article to an audience that is filled up with other chaplains and other servants of God related to the chaplaincy, may seem to be me taking the opportunity of talking about myself. But I promise you I am too aware of all my shortcomings to write this long about myself. I am trying to make a strong point about a Holy Calling . . . one that many of you have shared.

There is a mystery in the Call of God that is as deep as any mystery in the universe. Bill Stackhouse who baptized me and hired me in my first church position . . . he who had served as a chaplain in World War Two . . . told me the substance of his Calling to over forty years of ministry was an overwhelming feeling that there was a need he could fill, and he made himself available to fill it. At the time, his description seemed too weak to me, but I was a very immature (and over zealous) Christian and (new) minister. Now I know that the Call goes out to all sorts of people. People of metaphysical, philosophical minds such as my own and practical, down to earth minds like Stackhouse’s. People like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, Elijah, David, Daniel, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Peter the Fisherman, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, and every other kind of man and woman who God in His Omniscience and his Holy Humor chooses. We are flawed people, but Almighty God has called each of us for His own reasons. Who is capable of prosecuting that?

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I served thirty-five years in active institutional ministry. These included nine years as an active duty chaplain and thirteen years as a Reserve chaplain. The ministry I was able to do as a military chaplain was the most powerful portion of my service. Because of who we are as chaplains, I was able to serve service members, and to open windows to the power of God in their lives in ten states, eighteen countries, during five major deployments including the First Gulf War, and during a greater complexity of circumstances and complications than the average civilian minister would ever have the opportunity of experiencing. And I was simply an average chaplain.

We have a holy calling. Most civilians do not begin to understand what we do. Many in the military do not fully understand our role in their lives. Some secular critics would disband the chaplaincy and eliminate our presence forever. But we serve as a powerful flank of God’s Army and I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be a part of our ministry in the military chaplaincy. I know you are as well.

© 2015 Robert B. Clemons III.

Robert B. Clemons III is a full-time self-employed author. He recently published his first novel as an E-book at Amazon.com. It is available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXCVODO. Clemons retired from the United States Air Force Chaplain Service as a Lieutenant Colonel with twenty-seven years service (including four years as an enlisted member in the Army Security Agency). He also retired from the United Methodist Church with a total of three and a half decades of service. In addition to his Master of Divinity, he holds degrees in Communications and Psychology and extensive post graduate studies in Philosophy. He is also the author of a poem included in this issue of Curtana and numerous articles in other publications.

Do We Lay Some Carpet or Start A War?

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If you know that the three angles of a particular triangle add up to a total of 180 degrees you have a specific piece of knowledge. But if you know that the angles of any triangle you come upon equal a total of 180 degrees, you have valuable understanding that will save you from having to measure the angles of every triangle you ever see. If nothing else, it could save you a lot of time and energy to have an education in such things.

Similarly, how do you know the area of a circle (maybe you want to put a floor covering on a round room)? Multiply pi (roughly 3.14) times the radius of the circle squared. So if your circle has a radius of 10 feet, its area in square feet would be 3.14 times 100 feet (10′ squared) which equals 314 square feet. If you used a more exact number for pi (say 3.141592653589793) you’d come out to 314.1592653589793 square feet, so the easiest thing to do is buy enough to cover 314.16 square feet of flooring.

I’m just saying that it’s nice not to have to rediscover the most efficient ways to accomplish complex tasks that people who lived long before us already discovered. A= pi times r(squared) ALWAYS gives us the area of a circle. But if you apply the same type of wisdom toward other subjects, such as history, you could accept this piece of wisdom: “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” That applies as common sense when faced with a situation like how expensive the repercussions of war turn out to be every time. America is still paying the medical cost (as one example of the costs) for Vietnam.

I have friends who still travel to Charleston or Columbia, SC VA hospitals every month to be treated for the physical and psychological wounds they received in Vietnam. The financial cost of waging the Vietnam War at the time came to around $500 million (several billion in today’s dollars), but that was a drop in the bucket compared to the other costs we’ve incurred since then, because of the war. The money we have spent on wounded warriors in a variety of ways including medical, training, prison for many, homelessness for many, inability of many to contribute to society in a productive way, programs for all, and so on, has been in the trillions (if it can even be calculated). Yet, we were ready to jump into all the versions of the Gulf War since back in 2001 (don’t kid yourself, almost all of us were for it after 9/11), when other, less expensive, more successful measures could have been pursued to bring the villains to justice.

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Now, again, we have people calling for the same unsuccessful, impossibly expensive responses to the same emotional issues. Isn’t the area of a circle still solved in the same way that has historically worked instead of trying to solve it by the formula for the area of a square or by the formula for relativity. We need to study our history of how much war has cost us. How much better might we have spent that money? During times when the powers that be were not in our faces telling us that we needed to go to war with smaller countries, because they were challenging or offending us, were times when we did not incur massive debt and we did accomplish more productive works for the good of America and the world.

As WWII was waged, the freedom and national geography of all the people on Earth were at risk. That was a war that had to be fought. Monsters were attempting to devour the world. Since then, America has gone to war with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Trillions have been spent conducting those wars . . . Why? What purposes did they serve?

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The reason we continue to use pi times radius (squared) to determine the area of a circle is that it always works. Why do we continue to listen to the voices (always with hidden agendas) who are inflaming us to go to war over differences and offenses that can be handled in better, cheaper ways with little or no loss of life? A well worn saying goes, “Follow the money, and you’ll know why.”

Who profits (financially) when we spend lots of money conducting a war? I’m not going to name names, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the typical taxpayers struggling to make ends meet, or even the ones that are making a reasonable income with secure retirements awaiting them. I’m pretty sure it’s the people who sell the implements of war and all the supplies that must be shipped to where the latest war is waged.

Now, I’ve got to go to Lowes. My wife wants me to buy carpet for our rectangular shaped bedroom. Hmm, I wonder if I should use my formula for the area of a circle to figure out how much carpet to buy. What do you think?

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BTW, I know a little bit about being in a war. In 27 years of military service I served in Vietnam (69-70), the First Gulf War (90-91), Operation Just Cause (1989), and a few other military operations most civilians would not recognize. My assessment is that they were all a big waste of money, property, natural resources, human relationships (including countless marriages), and lives. If you’d like to read my book, which, even though it is science fiction, is based on my year in Vietnam, and speaks about the evils of war and the forces that profit from war, you can sample and/or buy it by clicking this: www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXCVODO

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You may find other essays, poems and photography I have created at realitystudies.wordpress.com which you can get to by clicking the link in this sentence.

When Do Things Become Real?

The real question is, “What is reality?” Were the tenets of General and Special Relativity real before they were proved real? Did the idea behind the formula E=mc(squared) represent reality before we proved that Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared? Were gravity waves real one hundred years ago when Einstein proposed their reality through the use of math and physics equations alone, or did they become real when 21st century scientists proved they were real (and reported their results recently) through ingenious experiments with technologies that were not even dreamed of in Einstein’s day? For that matter, did the electromagnetic spectrum exist as a real thing before Herschel, Ritter, Maxwell, Hertz, Roentgen, Villard, Rutherford, and others discovered the various wavelengths of light that exist along that spectrum? What things are mathematical realities that no one has yet proved?

The answer to all of those questions, and all similar questions is YESa thing does NOT have to exist in the material world in order to be classified as ‘REAL’. Thanks to Pythagorus, who was born more than 570 years before Jesus, we have known for around 2500 years that the formula, a squared plus b squared equals c squared, describes in pure math the reality of a right triangle. Socrates demonstrated that even an uneducated servant (named Meno, after whom Plato’s dialogue that tells this story is named), does not need to be educated to know the concept of the Pythagorean Theorem within his mind without actually knowing the formula itself.  Right triangles are real even if you are a being who lives in a world where no physical triangles exist. The same is true for squares, circles, and so forth. It is true (at least in this parallel universe) for all mathematical realities, such as pi, prime numbers, and the various equations the brightest souls of humanity have discovered, over the millennia, that describe REALITY.

I don’t understand why people, especially some hard core scientists, refer to any mathematical realities, as things that may not exist in the physical world. Wouldn’t it be more logical to say, that while a series of equations may seem esoteric or meaningless in a physical sense, perhaps we have simply not understood in what ways they represent reality in one way or the other in the physical universe. This mode of thinking is especially appropriate when we are cognizant of the truth that we are consistently finding realities, especially at the quantum level, that at least bear some resemblance to realities described in literature about the so-called supernatural world. Actually, that may be the problem for many scientists. These new realities sound too much like descriptions by spiritually minded people of spiritual things, e.g. you cannot perceive them with your physical senses, they do not follow the classic laws of physics, they do not fit into our common sense understanding of outer reality, and so on.

How did Moses know that the physical universe began in chaos and that the first step that marked the first second of time was an enormous explosion of light (refer to first paragraph in first chapter of Genesis), while science did not know this until over the last few decades (Wheeler, Hawking, et al)? How did Plato know (around 2300 years ago) that we live in a, for lack of a better word, holographic reality (see his “Allegory of the Cave” in The Republic of Plato)? Cutting edge physics has only accumulated enough data to ask whether this is true over the last decade. How did Jesus Christ (and other spiritually enlightened human beings) know thousands of years ago, that we live in an observer determined reality? Quantum Physics was not even born until the early 20th century, and only then, did science begin to say, “Maybe we live in an observer determined reality.” I have made these points in several articles and one book, but the reason I repeat them so often is that each new scientific finding in physics supports such realties.

Now, last week (the week beginning 7 Feb 2016), The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the news and published a scholarly paper in the prestigious physics journal, Physical Review Letters, proving  that the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory one hundred years ago, are real! Do you get it? For 100 years, they were no more real (in the minds of many scientists) than squiggly figures on Einsteins paper, depicting mathematical conjecture. Most of the rest of humanity had never heard of gravity waves, just as most of them had never heard of (or paid attention to it if they had) the Pythagorean Theorem. Einstein’s equations said the waves were real, but since nobody had physical proof of them, they were not real. Here’s the thing: they are real and have been real ever since the Big Bang got things started. It is also true that right triangles are real and are mathematically described to perfection, and would be so, even if not one single right triangle were demonstrated in the physical world.

Plato described his belief in a realm of Forms that exists independently of the physical plane in which physical beings live. Forms are the real prototypes of the physical objects we perceive with our senses and interpret with our brains. Modern religious people may think of the realm of the Forms in a similar fashion to the way Jesus and his original followers described the eternal world of the Kingdom of God. If it helps, think of Pythagoras’ theorem as describing the Form, Right Triangle. The theorem describes the perfect Right Triangle (which does not exist, even in our modern world of high tech design).

If Pythagoras, Plato, Moses, Jesus, Leonardo, Tesla, Einstein, Bohr, Wheeler, Hawking, and a few hundred other very special human beings can know that some things are real without any physical evidence or the scientific method to support them, perhaps we can begin to have more confidence in all the dreams, of what may be and could be, by all the imaginative souls in this physical plane. Instead of treating most dreamers with disrespect and dismissal as compared to how we treat the documented producers, our world may become a better place in accordance with our improved attitudes toward listening to what the creative minds among us  are saying.

One last point here, is that Einstein’s Special and General theories of relativity stated mathematically that time travel is possible, to both past and future. Even though this has been proved in the realm of highly sophisticated, very technical laboratory conditions, most people do not realize it, and most scientists still reject it as reality. It is a fact, that those who do accept the mathematical and advanced physics evidence, are spending billions of dollars in available grants and private money pursuing the dream of creating a mechanism for traveling through time, or at least viewing past and future from machines in the present. If you are interested in that imaginative dream, you may read more about it in my book, The Hiroshima Agenda which can be sampled and/or purchased at www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXCVODO simply by clicking the website in this sentence and following two simple instructions. I explore there, many of the apparent realities of travel to past and future, and the nature of time itself. I hope you will buy it and read it, and share your thoughts about it.

TIMELY MATTERS

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One of the hottest and most controversial topics in modern physics, time travel, now appears feasible to some scientists. Before the first time-venture begins there are terribly important, philosophical issues to consider. 

          Scientists and philosophers don’t even agree on what time is. No general consensus exists on the essence of the past, present, and future among those who think most about the nature of time. But it is agreed upon by some of the most brilliant that the difference between past, present and future is an illusion. It is easily proved through Relativity Theory that all 3 time frames exist simultaneously.

          Does the future already reside beyond today? Apparently so. How can it if we have not gotten to it yet? Consider that question from the perspective of the twin whose twin sister is traveling in a starship near the speed of light. She knows that her sister is living in the future relative to herself, though before her ship took off they were in the present together.

          Do we create the future second by second, or do we live out what is already there? Would a time machine carry its passengers into nothingness when it transports them into the future that has not yet happened? If the past is still where we left it, then we are their future, and we do exist (at least for the present instant). If the future is there waiting for us how can it be said we have free will? Ah, that is the question. Does it change on a regular basis as billions of people make up their minds in the present, or is there a parallel universe for the infinite possibilities of choices? Does it wait for us to experience it, fully formed already, like the conclusion of a predestined movie?

          People traveling from 2014 to 2015 would be traveling to the future from their perspective even though 2015 is present tense for us. If their futures exists perhaps ours does too.

          Is the past back there where we left it, or did it become nothingness as the clock ticked on? How exactly would that happen? When does the past disappear in terms of a thunder storm; when one sees the lighting strike or when one hears the thunder of the sonic boom created by the lighting?

          If people with time machines travel to the past, will they simply go into oblivion? If so, what reality have we ever known? If our being is just a thin ribbon of existence, never occupying any frame but the present, moving through some medium we cannot define, leaving no real trace of itself and having no map for where it is going, it seems completely illusionary like some master magicians tricks.

          Some people have never thought about the fact that we never really experience the immediate present of the world we sense. Everything we perceive has traveled to our awareness from a past reality. Time and space separate the events around us from the seat of our consciousnesses. When we look at the sun we do not see it in its present state but how it looked 8 minutes in the past. It takes the light from the sun that long to reach our eyes. We see another star, Alpha Centauri, as it was four and a half years ago. The light of that star takes that long to get from it to our eyes. When we see a lightning bolt, we hear the thunder clap several seconds later. We don’t hear the thunder clap in its instant of creation, but separated by the time it takes the sound waves to reach us. The lightning bolt and the clap of thunder happened at the same time (on location), but we experience them in two different times from our perspective. We experience each according to how long it takes each one to reach us. One set of signals travels to us at the slower speed of sound, and the other moves toward us at the faster speed of light.

          Even the sensations of touch and taste we experience represent actual happenings separated from the present by the time it takes the stimulations from our nerve endings to reach our brains. We never know the present instant in the present. It is always a reproduction of the past we sense.

          The point is that if our sense organs occupy one time frame (call it the present) and receive signals of sound or sight from another time frame (the past?), which traveled from their own time frame to ours (for them the future), then past, present, and future co-exist and are vitally interlinked.

          If the future exists, and if time travel can happen, then travelers from the future probably visit us already. A person’s descendants from hundreds or thousands of years beyond would likely try to observe their ancestors. They would go back to witness their parents and grandparents as children and teenagers. Maybe the “angels” that people claim appear out of nowhere to save them from harm or to give them important messages really originated in the future rather than Heaven. The idea of people traveling back in time to save their ancestors from some tragic family experience, long remembered by the survivors makes at least as much sense as being helped by spiritual creatures who don’t help everyone else.

          Time travelers made to appear god-like by their modern technology could have given rise to the legends of super beings like Zeus, Thor, and Apollo. Time travelers sent back to guide humankind to a better future could have easily impersonated ancient polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci. Future members of the human race, in possession of time machines could have influenced the past before us to make the present we now know better than some former present we cannot remember. They changed a former past in ways we can never appreciate. What rules would such visitors have to follow? How many mistakes would they make? How many accidents would it take to design fool-proof measures that prevent them from destroying the world or merely erasing you or me? Does the quantum theory of parallel universes render these sorts of questions moot?

          Visitors from our own future, observing us from the safety of the skies may explain the UFOs that millions have claimed to have seen. Human beings from the distant future, who have evolved beyond our recognition of them as human could explain the “extraterrestrials” that people claim have abducted them and conducted physical examinations on them.

          These ideas may seem silly to some people today, but if the new time-scientists succeed in their goal of discovering the secrets of time travel the questions behind these issues must have answers.

          Here is the question that most needs answering first: Why do some of the most brilliant physicists in our world today think it reasonable to spend their valuable energy and time trying to design a functional time machine?

Interested in this subject? Read my book at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XXCVODO