More Christianity

More Christianity

Sorry Therapy: Blaming others Doesn’t work, Confession Does

beliefnet confession.jpg

When we go to confession we are getting an excellent dose of inner therapy. Confession works, and forgiveness really does make us better. There are three problem areas of our lives which we can bring into confession. We are usually conditioned to ask forgiveness only for the things we have done. But we can also ask forgiveness for the things we have left undone and the things that have been done to us.

The children are fighting. I decide to wade into the fray and break things up. As soon as I ask what is going on each child points to the other and they say in unison, ‘He started it!’ It’s part of our wounded human nature to blame somebody else for our problems. The Garden of Eden story makes the point all too painfully: As soon as God finds Adam and Eve and questions them Adam says, ‘The woman told me to eat.’ Then when God looks to Eve she immediately blames the serpent.

Blaming others for our problems is a natural response, but it is also an immature response. Our natural responses are usually childish. We have to learn mature behaviour. However, the immature response of blaming others doesn’t always look childish. Sophisticated adults use all sorts of tricks to shift the blame. When a business fails managers blame employees, employees blame managers and everybody blames the executives.

Even when politicians and religious leaders fall they blame conspiracy theories or political enemies. Some forms of counselling encourage us to blame our parents for the state we’re in. Social theories blame our social environment or our financial background. Other forms of self-analysis teach us to blame our education or our lack of education, our religion or our lack of religion. Almost anything can be used as a root reason for our problems.

Many of our problems do have roots in all these areas, but healing doesn’t come through attaching blame elsewhere. True healing comes through owning the problem. Secular self-help programmes are good at helping people own their problems and decide to do something about it, but one of their failings is that they give the impression that we can do something about our failures and problems on our own. If only we have a little bit more will power and positive thinking we can overcome anything. Sadly most of us can’t. We need outside input.

The mature person realises his problems are his own, and that there are only two people who can really do anything about it. The first person is myself and the second person is Jesus Christ. As a result, the best therapy and the best problem solving technique is to learn how to say ‘sorry’ at a very profound level.

When we go to confession we are getting an excellent dose of inner therapy. Confession works, and forgiveness really does make us better. There are three problem areas of our lives which we can bring into confession. We are usually conditioned to ask forgiveness only for the things we have done. But we can also ask forgiveness for the things we have left undone and the things that have been done to us.

When we bring the things we have done into confession we are taking a huge first step away from the immature behaviour of blaming others. In confession we cannot blame anyone else. We own our faults and bring them to God. It may be true that we commit sins with mixed motives or because of circumstances beyond our control. All of our actions and decisions grow from the complex condition of our heart. God knows and understands all that. Instead of analysing all those other factors He wants us to simply come into his presence with the thing that’s gone wrong and leave the rest to him.

If we hand it over in confession often the other things get themselves sorted out. Confession is like the kind of weed killer which you spray on the leaves of the weed. In time it penetrates into the pores of the leaf, moves down the stem and kills the very root. So when we bring outward sins and problems to confession the grace of absolution moves deeply into our lives, killing off those very roots of sin which some forms of therapy continually analyze and mull over.

Sometimes I forget to bring to confession the things I’ve left undone, but in fact that area of my life is where there is perhaps the greatest sin. The things we have left undone are symbols of all that we could be in God’s final plan. If we can only get a glimpse of the glory for which we were created, then we would also get a glimpse of how far short of that glory we fall. We were created to be the infinite sons and daughters of the King of Glory, brothers and sisters with the saints and co-heirs with Christ himself. God intends for us to be perfectly whole one day-shining with the radiance of Christ. As we go to confession we should always remember that great potential God has given each one of us. Then we will see that our lack of love and our lukewarm devotion to God is the greatest problem in our lives.

When I was a minister I remember a man named Steve coming to see me, ‘You are always telling us to forgive others.’ He said, ‘But what if you can’t forgive someone?’

‘Who can’t you forgive?’ I asked.

‘My friend Richard was my business partner. He was my best friend. Last year I found out he was not only cheating me out of my half of the business, but he was having an affair with my wife. I hate him and I can’t stop hating him.’

As Steve was talking a verse from the Scripture popped into my mind. ‘Who can forgive sins, but God alone?’ Suddenly I realised that it is impossible for us to forgive someone in our own power.

Therefore when we come to confession we should also bring the things that have been done to us. We don’t bring them blaming the other person, but asking God for the strength to forgive them. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ But maybe we should also understand that phrase from the Lord’s prayer as meaning ‘forgive us our sins at the same time as we forgive those who sin against us.’ With this in mind we will bring to the confessional the things that have been done to us-whether ages ago by our parents or teachers, or earlier in the day by our boss, our spouse or our family members. Then as we ask confess our sins we can also confess our inability to forgive, and ask God to let His forgiveness flow through us to those who have injured us.

In this way saying ‘sorry’ through the sacrament of reconciliation has a powerful healing effect in our lives. Instead of blaming parents or teachers or circumstances or social factors we own our problems and bring them into God’s presence asking for his help. When we do this the healing is powerful and real. It reaches right back to the roots of our sin. It strengthens us to take up the things we should be doing, and it touches those who have sinned against us.  I remember an old priest saying to me, ‘Confession is a simple, humble and beautiful sacrament. It is far more efficient than psychotherapy. Its quicker and its more painless.’ And then with a twinkle in his eye he added, ‘.and its cheaper too!’

—–

Fr Dwight Longenecker is a married Roman Catholic Priest who was ordained under the pastoral provision for married former Anglican priests. Go to his website and connect to his popular blog, Standing on My Head.

The Holy Spirit, Me and the Church

beliefnet fr dwight.jpgThe iconography of the church often reveals startling reminders of the truths of the faith. When Pentecost is represented we most often see the tongues of flame descending on the heads of the Apostles, but we also see the apostles gathered around the Blessed Mother-reminding us that Pentecost is not just a personal experience, but a corporate experience.

In our individualistic, sentimental society we tend to judge things according to the impact they have on us personally. We want the buzz. We want the experience. We want the ‘personal encounter.’ This is often the emphasis in religion as well. Whether it is charismatic renewal or new ecclesial movements that stress ‘the encounter with Christ’ or some Protestant experience based worship encounter, we look for the Holy Spirit baptism to be some sort of powerful, mystical, emotional, subjective experience.

Nothing wrong with that necessarily. These kind of experiences are fine. We don’t want to deny them or rule them out. However, we do need to be properly skeptical of them, for personal emotional religious ‘experiences’ may be the result of mental or emotional disturbances and they can be manufactured in all sorts of ways from illegal substances to shyster evangelists and cult leaders. The emotional, subjective ‘Holy Spirit experiences’ are all well and good, except that sometimes they’re not well and they’re certainly not good.

In addition to having a proper scepticism about personal mystical, emotional religious experiences it is even more important to remember that the baptism of Holy Spirit is not just a personal religious encounter. More importantly, the Holy Spirit is the inspiration for the foundation of the Church. That is why, in the painting here, and in so much of the church’s iconography, the scene is portrayed as it is–the apostolic church gathered together around the Mother of the Church–the Mother of God.
 
It is in this apostolic church–inspired by the Holy Spirit– that our own individual encounter with the Burning Bush, the Burning Babe, the Dove Descending, the Fiery Cloudy pillar, the earthquake, wind and fire and the still, small voice makes sense and is validated.

We may experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit in a powerful, dramatic way. Or then again we may not, and whether we do or not may simply have more to do with our personality type than anything else. What is most important to remember is that within the Church and her sacraments the Holy Spirit is given to us in a solid, reliable and unfailing way. In baptism, confirmation, confession, the Eucharist the Holy Spirit is given, fulfilled, renewed and refreshed. It happens. It’s a fact. It’s real–whether we happen to feel the burning in our hearts or not.

This too is pictured in the painting above, for the bodies writhing in supernatural ecstacy are placed within the solid architecture of the church. Therefore the personal and the corporate, the subjective and the objective are both vital in the life of faith. My personal experience is grounded on the Rock, and if I experience anything that goes against the church or is not in union with the church, then I am deluded and I had better be careful lest I am led astray. Instead, my personal experiences are tested and tried– refined and defined by Mother Church.

And in this I humbly rejoice, for as my personal experience is subjected to the authority of the church, rather than my personal experience being suppressed or quashed, my personal experience is magnified, enhanced and taken up into a totally greater dimension.

My own personal life is merged with the Body of Christ the Church and therefore, my life which was once insignificant, comes to assume cosmic importance because it is part of a much greater whole, a small part in a greater symphony, a tiny orbit within the everlastingly complex whirling of the greater created order.

Affirmations in Oxford, England and More of Christ

I had gone to England from the United States with the dream of being an Anglican country priest. I wanted to be the pastor of one of those beautiful old stone churches nestled in a quaint English village in the heart of the countryside. My dream came true, and in these columns I hope to share more of that beautiful world later

Fr Dwight Longenecker 1 INSIDE.jpgMore Christianity is a way of following Christ that seeks adventure. It is open and curious and questing and free. In order to have this kind of Christian life we have to be open minded and optimistic. This column is dedicated to ‘More Christianity’, because in a whole range of ways I want to explore in a positive and powerful way that abundant life that Christ came to give.

The world is changed by words. One little idea expressed in a simple and direct way can alter one person’s life, and that person may go on to change the world. I don’t claim to have changed the world, but I do claim that my world changed when I came across a pithy little saying during my studies.

I had gone to England from the United States with the dream of being an Anglican country priest. I wanted to be the pastor of one of those beautiful old stone churches nestled in a quaint English village in the heart of the countryside. My dream came true, and in these columns I hope to share more of that beautiful world later.

However, one of the stops on the journey was to go and study at Oxford, England. I had become a fan of C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and the group of writers and friends called the Inklings. To actually live and study at Oxford was a dream come true in itself. I will never forget the enjoyment of living in a little attic room with books piled high around me as I explored the ancient and beautiful Anglican path of following Christ.

I had come to the Anglican faith from an American fundamentalist background. What drew me to England and the Anglican faith was a search for an expression of Christianity that was older and deeper than the enthusiastic and sincere (but sometimes shallow) understanding of the faith within American fundamentalism. Being at Oxford meant being introduced to the depth of Anglicanism and I jumped in both feet first!

One of the writers I came across was F.D.Maurice. Maurice was a nineteenth century Anglican thinker. He was an old fashioned liberal. Nowadays ‘liberal’ often means ‘radical’ or ‘revolutionary’. But in Maurice’s day ‘liberal’ simply meant generous, open minded, searching and affirming. I can’t remember where I came across these words, but when I read them they jumped off the page and I scribbled them down and memorized them.

The words were, “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” Think about it. This is a life changing insight! “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” What Maurice meant is that when we are saying ‘yes’ to something–even if we do not fully understand it–we are on the right path. When we are saying ‘no’ to something we are on the path of negativity and narrow mindedness.

When I was in college the choir teacher knew I could sing and he grabbed my arm one day and said, “Dwight, we need more men in the opera chorus. Will you please join?” “Opera!!” I thought. “It’s just fat ladies bellowing in Italian. No thanks.” He persisted. I finally gave in and joined. I learned the music, met some new friends, and before long the tunes, the drama, the fun of dressing up and bellowing out the Italian was infectious and I had a great time. Furthermore, I learned to love opera and enjoy it to this day.

What I learned through that experience is what Maurice was trying to communicate in his pithy little saying. “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.”

More Christianity has this philosophy at its heart. So often Christians are negative, narrow minded and pinched in their view of life. We use our dogmas, our doctrines and our disciplines to close life down rather than open it up. We use our rule and our regulations and rubrics to constrict our lives. We lock others out. We build little fortresses. We become suspicious and small. This is not the abundant life that Jesus Christ promised his followers.

Instead, More Christianity is a way of following Christ that seeks adventure. It is open and curious and questing and free. In order to have this kind of Christian life we have to be open minded and optimistic. We have to embrace Maurice’s observation and realize that when we are affirming we are usually right and when we are denying we are usually wrong.

When we are introduced to something new we should be interested in it and give it a try. When God brings a new way of praying or a new way of living into our lives we should be open to his guidance and be ready to affirm all that is good about that new idea or way of reacting or behaving.

Of course we need discernment and wisdom. Not all things are equally good and there are plenty of beliefs and behaviors which are downright bad. But if we look even at the bad things with a curious and inquisitive mind we will soon understand why they are bad and reject them within the path of wisdom rather than simply in mindless obedience to a regulation.

As I continued my adventure of becoming an Anglican priest I took F.D.Maurice’s statement to heart. When I came across a belief or a custom or a tradition that was unfamiliar to me I tried to first see what was good about it, and then I tried to understand and accept it. When I met a person who did not first attract me or with whom I disagreed I tried to see what was good about them and then understand and accept them.

Maurice’s wise little saying changed my whole perspective on myself, my world, my beliefs and my relationships. It made me reach out to have more Christianity, and with more Christianity I longed to accept more of Christ, more of his people and more of his Church.

This column is dedicated to ‘More Christianity’, because in a whole range of ways I want to explore in a positive and powerful way that abundant life that Christ came to give.

—–

Fr Dwight Longenecker is a former Anglican priest. He now serves as parish priest and school chaplain in the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. His book More Christianity has just been published by Ignatius Press.

Welcome to More Christianity

‘Mere’ Christianity is only a starting place. It is Christianity for Beginners. C.S.Lewis himself expected people to move from ‘mere’ Christianity to something more. My own Christian journey has been a search for that ‘more’ the Lewis hints at.

morechristianitybook.jpg

Did you know that when C.S. Lewis was on his deathbed he was worried that his brother and his step sons would have nothing on which to live because all his books would go out of print? Now, nearly fifty years after his death his books go on and on being read by millions. Millions more are captivated by his enchanting children’s books, his science fiction, essays, sermons and lectures.

C.S.Lewis is perhaps most famous for his little book Mere Christianity. It is still a classic introduction which has brought thousands of people into a better understanding of Christianity. I am an ardent admirer of C.S.Lewis and his work, and the idea of ‘Mere’ Christianity has much to recommend it. Lewis’ wanted to follow and commend a form of Christianity which was simple and basic. “Let’s forget about all the persnickety arguments and denominational quarrels!” he might say. “Let’s put on one side all the debates about dogma, liturgy and minute theological points and focus on the basic beliefs and simple practice of the Christian religion. Let’s do what most Christians do and believe what most Christians have always believed. Let’s be ‘Mere’ Christians. This is certainly an attractive idea, however, there are a couple of problems with ‘Mere’ Christianity. 

First of all, it’s not easy to decide just what that ‘Mere Christianity’ is. Who decides what is the essential core of Christianity and what is not? An Evangelical Christian may say all that matters is an individual’s ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. A charismatic will insist that they are also ‘baptized in the Spirit.’ A Presbyterian or Lutheran may say that Baptism in necessary while an Anglican will argue that two sacraments are necessary to salvation, while Catholics will have an even longer list. It’s nice to want ‘mere’ Christianity, but it’s only a theory because no one can actually define what that ‘Mere’ Christianity consists of, and where the borders lie. As a result many Christians want to put all those questions on one side as if they don’t matter. The problem is, living Christ’s life is complicated, and before too long anyone who really takes their Christian faith seriously will have to think these questions through.

There’s another problem with C.S.Lewis’ famous concept: too often ‘Mere Christianity’ becomes the lowest common denominator rather than the highest shared factor. What I mean is that Lewis wanted ‘Mere Christianity’ to be that body of belief and practice which united Christians of all denominations. Unfortunately, what results with those who seek ‘Mere Christianity’ is that in their attempt to agree with others, they end up with a sort of watered down, bland religion which no one can really practice because it is too wishy washy. In an attempt to avoid points of difficulty and disagreement, everything that has bite is omitted. What remains is a passionless, lukewarm, theoretical sort of religion which goes nowhere because it has run out of fuel.

Finally, there is a problem which Lewis himself hints at in his introduction, but then neatly steps around. In the introduction he writes, “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into the hall I will have done what I have attempted to do. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.”

In other words, ‘mere’ Christianity is only a starting place. It is Christianity for Beginners. C.S.Lewis himself expected people to move from ‘mere’ Christianity to something more.  My own Christian journey has been a search for that ‘more’ the Lewis hints at. I was brought up in a loving, fervent Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. Our family were sincere Protestant believers. While attending the fundamentalist Bob Jones University I visited England a couple of times, and being entranced by C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien and other Christian writers, became an Anglican. Feeling the call to ministry, I went to England, studied theology at Oxford. (for Lewis fans like me Oxford was a dream come true!) and was ordained as an Anglican priest.

Ten years later my search for more and more and even more Christianity led me to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Along that journey I never felt I was denying or abandoning the traditions I had within Evangelicalism and Anglicanism. Instead I felt I was simply adding to them. Now I serve as a Catholic priest. I’m the pastor of a parish and serve as a high school chaplain in Greenville, South Carolina. In this column, and in my blog (called Standing on My Head) and through my homilies and books and articles and radio work I wish to share with as many people as possible the joy I have of seeking not just ‘Mere’ Christianity, but ‘More Christianity’. The Catholic Church is often perceived as a joyless, ritualistic, legalistic, oppressive and out of date religion. I have not found it so. Instead it has become the bedrock and foundation point from which I have been able to embark on the greatest adventure of all–the adventure of following Jesus Christ. 

I hope through this column that many more will come to see that Catholicism is the radiant fullness of the Christian faith. I won’t be arguing much and I don’t want to slam other Christians or be negative about anyone. Life’s too short for that. Instead I want to share with readers the mystery and the marvel of Catholicism. I want to share the power and the glory of our faith as well as the humor, humanity and humility of Catholicism. I’ll be discussing the whole breadth of our Catholic faith–doctrines and devotions, art and architecture, literature and liturgy, trends and traditions, saints and sinners.

I hope you’ll join me whenever you can, and that, if you like what you read you will share it with others, so that they too can move on from Mere Christianity to more and more and more Christianity.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!
Thank you for visiting More Christianity. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!

posted 2:15:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

The Day I Met St Therese of Lisieux
I was an Anglican priest the summer I met St Therese of Lisieux. I was living in England and had three months free between jobs, so I decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I was going to hitch hike and stay in monasteries and religious houses on the way. The first leg of my journey took me a

posted 4:49:21pm May. 16, 2011 | read full post »

Of Anchorites and Stylites in Lent
St Simeon the Stylite  I have never understood the aversion most Christians have to fasting. Say the word 'fasting' and you get distasteful and alarmed expressions, as if to say, "Good heavens! That's rather unnecessarily extremist isn't it?" One suspects that they think you go in for 'physical

posted 4:12:07pm Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Fr Dwight Longenecker on 'Liberal or Conservative?'
I always give people the benefit of the doubt. Some of my friends think it is a vice and some think it is a virtue. I hope I'm not being naive, but I really do try to see the best of every idea and every person. In this column More Christianity I've tried to share my philosophy that "a man is most o

posted 10:06:44am Mar. 16, 2011 | read full post »

Sorry Therapy: Blaming others Doesn't work, Confession Does
When we go to confession we are getting an excellent dose of inner therapy. Confession works, and forgiveness really does make us better. There are three problem areas of our lives which we can bring into confession. We are usually conditioned to ask forgiveness only for the things we have done. But

posted 1:28:07pm Mar. 10, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.