Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost Sunday Reflections Upon Speaking in Tongues

On this Pentecost Sunday, I thought it might be a good time to share some thoughts on speaking in tongues.    A good place to begin would be today's reading from John 20:19-23.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

My own background on this issue--well before our journey to the Catholic Church--has also been a great influence.  As my grandfather was a minister and my great aunt a medical missionary to Africa, this was an issue that came up from time to time.  The Charismatic understanding of speaking in tongues always troubled them.  I remember one account, for instance, of missionaries coming back from the field and visiting a church where speaking in tongues was being practiced.  They hurriedly left, as I recall, because they heard most profane things being said in one of the obscure languages of the mission field.  

When I worked in the late 1980s in Seattle for an Assemblies of God Church, I also had an experience that will always stick with me in a most negative way.  I was on my way back to Seattle Pacific University after work and riding beside me was a colleague from the church.  I remember as the bus neared the Freemont District where I would exit, my seatmate began to loudly "talk" about church and faith.  He wasn't actually speaking to me at all, but was using me as an excuse to witness to those on the bus.  We should all be willing and able to articulate our faith in public, but there is something very disagreeable about excited and disingenuous expressions of faith like this.  Like the way I see many  of those on the Charismatic side, their faith seems to my perspective to reflect something more akin to emotionalism than reason.

As we read in 1st Corinthians 14:28, speaking in tongues without an interpreter is contrary to the teachings of Saint Paul.  Speaking in tongues, then, is a ministry tool (to address a specific manner of need in spreading the Gospel) which focuses more upon the hearer than the the speaker.  That is, the speaker is trying to share the Gospel of Christ with someone of a different culture.  The act of speaking in tongues is to convey the Gospel, as opposed to "puff-up" the speaker, conveying true humility rather than pride, and spreading and strengthening the people of God.

The above does not mean that all those who practice speaking in tongues are doing something wrong and contrary to biblical teachings, but it does, at the very least, suggest strong caution.  I'll agree that it is a difficult and complex topic.  There is, for instance, the case of Heidi Baker in Mozambique.  Unless it's all a fabrication and a lie--which I don't propose--God is performing wondrous and powerful acts of healing through this diminutive woman.   Of course, this is the mission field, the truly legitimate place for speaking in tongues.  It's truly challenging to address such a deep topic in a blog post, but I offer my thoughts and reflections on this topic only as points for your consideration.

In conclusion, below is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this important topic.

Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit." Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Observations on Kaiser's Emergency Triage

The other day my wife presented serious symptoms at the Skyline Kasier Permanente facility in Salem, Oregon.  Although her symptom presentation suggested the possibility of a serious medical condition--e.g. stroke or possible blockage in the brain--we were directed to wait an hour before a nurse saw her.  As soon as she was seen, the care was wonderful.  I can't stress that enough, in fact.  

Still, as this is the second time we have experienced a serious triage error at Kaiser Permanente, we think it's important that people know they should press to be evaluated by a health professional if symptoms suggest an emergency.  "Assembly line medicine" can still be a serious concern even at the best of facilities.  You are ultimately the best advocate for quality care and continuity of care, and sometimes you must be willing to escalate things to the next level.  I'm sure glad we did.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sing a New Church--Not!

Back in 2008, I was trying to lead a little crusade against OCP's hymn Sing a New Church.  As you have probably guessed, the venture was not terribly successful--except it did lead to "Reflections on a Hymn."  I even got chewed-out by a fellow at OCP who accused me of some unpleasant (and untrue) things.  At any rate, I thought perhaps this excerpt below from a letter on the topic might be of interest to some of my fellow Catholics.  Perhaps this is a good time to re-visit this issue?  

(As an aside, Delores Dufner could not have been any more kind or gracious in her communications with me.  I appreciated her answering my questions for the article I mentioned previously.)

What a wonderful joy it has been to arrive home to the fullness of faith found within the Catholic Church!  Our family joined with our Catholic brothers and sisters on Easter Sunday of 2005.  Before that day arrived, our spiritual journey had taken us across a varied landscape of Christian traditions: from Free Methodist and Lutheran Churches to the disintegrating Episcopal denomination.  It was Father George Wolf and Pastoral Associate Bryce Hermann, at Salem’s Queen of Peace Parish, who took the time to patiently answer the many questions our family raised throughout RCIA.  These questions were not only addressed with intelligence and reason, but their thoughtful answers reflected a deep kindness and love of God and His Church.

One of the things of which I am profoundly aware (and thankful) is that, while the Catholic Church is not moved by the aimless cultural winds of our time, it likewise is not a democracy.  I would like to respectfully offer a concern regarding an issue of liturgical music, but it is offered with the understanding and awareness that I may be in the wrong.  I raise these concerns in good conscience, but, if correction is necessary, then, I will humbly ask your pardon and be on my way to serve God as best as I can endeavor.  To fail to share my concerns with you, however, would be a violation of my own conscience, as I believe that the Mass is done a dishonor by the use of a particular Oregon Catholic Press hymn entitled “Sing a New Church.”  

This concern is not raised lightly.  For several weeks now, I have been in contact with both (Redacted) at OCP as well as (Redacted) from your own office.  I have joined with other Catholics to respectfully make our concerns known regarding this hymn and its theologically incoherent--and spiritually dangerous--message.  When it became clear that constructive progress towards removal of this hymn was not being realized, I decided that it was best to contact you directly.  I’d also like to add that, although I have made (Redacted) aware of this effort, this endeavor is not aimed at any particular parish, but wherever this hymn may be in use in Catholic Churches.  In other words, my complaint really concerns the oversight and accountability OCP works under with regards to the Archdiocese of Portland.

In these tumultuous times, it becomes even more critical that our theology and doctrine always be expressed with clarity and truth.  To do otherwise not only dishonors the Mass, but it leads Catholics astray towards moral relativism and the lie of modernism.  It further serves as an exceedingly poor witness to non-Catholics, those who may be searching (as our family was) for the Truth.  As my father-in-law John Collier (the sculptor of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero and many other pieces of religious art across the country) frequently points out, the Catholic Church used to be the place to go for the best art and the finest music.  Why are we allowing the Mass to become a place now filled more with reflections of a quickly passing culture than with quality liturgical music of both substance and beauty? At the very least, when our music borders (or crosses the line) into heresy or self-centered praising instead of worshiping the Living God, “life itself, immutable,” why are we not standing up and raising our voices in protest?

If you would permit me, I’d like to take a moment to quote from a recent article (“Bad Poetry, Bad Theology”)  from Catholic Answers’ magazine This Rock  by Anthony Esolen.  This passage begins with a quote from the hymn itself.
Summoned by the God who made us,
rich in our diversity,
gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity,
Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied [sic] ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise. (“Sing a New Church”)
Here the worshipers are like the mythological Amphion at his lyre, singing to raise the walls of Thebes from the earth. 

Again, I’m not saying that the typical singers in our churches intend such nonsense! But the nonsense has to seep in, eventually. And note what it replaces: Jesus instructs us to say, when our work is done, that we have been worthless and unprofitable servants. Do any contemporary show tunes meditate upon that saying? It is instructive to note by contrast the last verse of “The Church’s One Foundation,” which in noble yet simple language gives us the true source and the end of our love:
Yet she on earth hath union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with thee. 
Rest assured, if no stand is made, the likelihood seems strong that more hymns embracing the heresy of universalism will be waiting for us right around the corner.  The hymns we sing in Mass should point straight to God--not to ourselves or human qualities such as diversity.  As the eloquent Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “...I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired to feelings of devotion.  Yet when I find the music itself more moving than the truth it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.”   I believe that my concern echoes these words, because “Sing a New Church” is, after all, proclaiming a new church, and that cannot be the same Church founded by Christ and entrusted to Saint Peter and the apostles.  

In fact, the very idea of a new church implies that the one true Church fell into ruin, and this, in turn, would make our Savior a liar when He promised in Matthew 16:18 that "even the gates of Hades will not overcome it." It's also suggesting that we build the church, which would mean more than simple cooperation with God. It is painting the stark picture of a church instituted by man (not God) and for man. Without the Cross, however, songs simply exalting each other smell strongly of the heresy of universalism and denial of Christ. If all we see is ourselves, we've missed the point of everything.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

E-mail 101 / Back to the Basics

As a governmental tax auditor by day, sometimes it's hard to find office time for writing projects.  That only makes sense.  Some of you may have noticed, however, that I've recently begun writing for a variety of agency or workforce related publications to broaden my experience in what I call "Communications 101." 

So far, my writing has been well received.  It's started some interesting dialogue with my colleagues in state service.  I've been waiting a few weeks to share the latest, but I think the editor must be experiencing some technical difficulties.  

Since not many of you would see the little publication anyway, and I'm not charging for it, I thought I'd go ahead and offer my readers a sneak peek today.  Later, when it's available online I'll probably add a little update to this post.  (Original publisher is International Association of Workforce Professional's Oregonizer.)  

As an aside here, please also see my piece on adaptive communications.  I'm likely going to continue writing these communication pieces with hopes that it will help my eventual transition from number-cruncher to more of a public affairs position with the state.  Hope you like it!

Back to the Basics, E-mail 101


Karl B. Erickson

Electronic mail has become such an integral part of our daily lives that it might be helpful if we took a step back and examined the way we use e-mail in a fresh light.  Whether you’re an electronic whiz kid or someone’s whose VCR still is blinking “12,” I hope that you will take something good away today.  To that end, I’d like to quickly discuss two main areas relating to e-mail communications: organization and etiquette.  
It always surprises me when someone with a messy or cluttered desk can know precisely where something is, removing the desired item deftly from an overflowing stack of papers.  When it comes to e-mail, though, the overflowing inbox approach isn’t usually the path to success.  Unknowingly, you may be missing important messages.  At the very least, it will slow you down.  If you find yourself with an overflowing inbox, try investing an hour to rein it in.  
First, go through your messages and delete anything that really doesn’t need to be saved; be brutal.  Don’t be an e-mail hoarder!  Second, try creating folders for categories of messages, and then transfer those messages out of your inbox.  Third, for messages being retained related to appointments, try copy/pasting the message into the comment or detail section of the calendar appointment—and don’t forget to delete or file away the associated e-mail.  Fourth, remove your e-mail address from unnecessary distribution lists.  (Do you really need the daily cute cat photo?)  Fifth, don’t forward “chain letters” and similar spam.  Your co-workers will thank you, and this will also reduce the likelihood of inadvertently spreading malware or a virus (usually via e-mail attachments).
How do we feel as shoppers when we’re on the receiving end of poor customer service?  Usually, it gets under our skin, but we may avoid taking the time or effort in following-up on the matter.  It’s not an astonishing revelation to point out that most everyone with whom we work and interact each and every day at the office is a kind of customer.  E-mail etiquette includes everything from the language we use to its tone and other characteristics.  When it comes to language, for example, are we keeping our messages clear and concise, or do we tend rely heavily upon acronyms, inconsistent abbreviations, or office jargon?  We should try to tailor our message for the person(s) to whom it’s directed.  That’s called adaptive communication.
Tone (the way things are said, or the message behind the message) can be challenging, but the key again is tailoring it for the audience—and being courteous.  We all should know by now to avoid using all caps or repeated punctuation marks; most everyone recognizes it as rude. Bear in mind that a brief salutation of some kind can be a good way to begin a message—as opposed to starting immediately with what you want.  (It’s also a way of reminding yourself that you’re writing a human being and not a computer.)  Another way to ensure appropriate courtesy is imagining that everyone may someday read a particular message.  Be careful about assuming something will remain anonymous or confidential.  Speaking of confidential, take care never to e-mail Social Security Numbers or passwords; that’s just asking for trouble.
Whatever we might be doing at the office, most professional interactions can be described as involving customers (internal or external) in one way or another.  That being the case, ensure that your communications are clear and respectful.  Your colleagues will thank you for it!