Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Praise the Lord and pass the plate!

Because now it makes sense....

I can't get a clear line on Rafael Cruz, but I do know he is now, though he wasn't always, something of an evangelical preacher.  His son Ted has said his father was one of the great influences on his life.  I now see that influence explains almost everything Ted Cruz has done since entering the U.S. Senate.

Evangelical preachers in America are itinerants in the worst sense of the phrase.  They go from place to place, speaking to appreciative audiences.  If the audience is not appreciative, they simply move on.  If the audience is appreciative, they take that affirmation with them, wrap themselves in it, use it to confirm they are doing God's work and that the "true believers" have recognized and confirmed the preacher's gifts.  It's a bubble, if you will.

If you want to burst that bubble, stay in one place for awhile.  No matter your self-confidence or self-assurance, staying in one place, speaking to the same group of people, working with them, living with them, being a pastor to them, will destroy your arrogance and your sense of your own worth.  I don't mean "destroy" in some detrimental sense.  I mean it will make you realize your place in the world, and the difficulty of being "in the world but not of the world."  The itinerant evangelical preacher gets to tell himself he's not of the world because he exists in the bubble of approval afforded by the crowds enraptured by what he has said.  He never has to stay for a repeat performance, or worry about what to say when the old verities no longer move the same congregation.  He doesn't even have to worry about having a congregation.  The crowd the itinerant evangelical preacher body-surfs sustains him from place to place, and seems to stretch to all corners of the country, if not the world.

I have a friend long in ministry, who told me a story years ago about a congregation member who said to my friend that this member could just stay home and watch TV preachers; there was no need to go to church.  My friend's reply, to which he didn't give voice, was:  "Fine.  Call that preacher the next time you need a funeral."

That's the difference between itinerant evangelical preachers and pastors.  The latter have to marry and bury and console and confront and comfort and cajole and struggle with God's people as surely as God's people struggle with God.  The itinerant preacher who never stays long in one place has no such burdens.  He is free to repeat himself endlessly, to amaze the crowd with his rhetorical tricks, and move on to the next location the next week, if not the next night.  And why do they do it?  For the money, of course.

Oh, they are doing the Lord's work, but the laborer is worthy of his hire, so they do it for the income.  Unlike a pastor who has to negotiate with a congregation or depend on the yearly donations (which always go down in the summer and don't really recover until the year's end; the similarities between a church's finances and a retail store's finances are frightening), the itinerant pastor depends on bookings and his own reputation for drawing crowds.  Crowds, it turns out, are far easier to inspire and to entice into the building than congregations are.  So the itinerant evangelical moves from place to place for the money, keeping himself in the public eye, or at least the eye of the public interested in what he has to say, and making sure he is saying what that public is paying for.  They do it for God, they tell themselves.  But they also do it for the money, and for the notoriety, which increases the money.

Ted Cruz has all but admitted that he used the past two months for fundraising.  He spoke to any group that would listen to him, and he spoke like a true believer.  But just like an itinerant preacher who has no real responsibility to any "home crowd," he never got his hands dirty in the Senate.  He didn't want to be responsible for a US default, so he didn't try to filibuster the bill to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling:  he simply voted against it, knowing his vote would not endanger the full faith and credit of the United States government.  He pressed the House GOP to vote against the measure, and more of them did than didn't.  Were it not for the unanimous 198 Democrats, the measure might not have passed the House, and Cruz could crow his victory without ever taking any personal responsibility for the disaster that followed.  Like an traveling preacher who visits the congregation but isn't responsible for its dissatisfaction with its preacher, or the new organ, or the new carpet in the Fellowship Hall, Cruz is in the Senate but not, he insists, of the Senate.  Like the traveling preacher his main goal is to preach, is to draw attention to himself.  As the preacher does, Cruz insists he is a true believer.  In his speech on the Senate floor last night, he again insisted Obamacare is damaging the country and that 2 million people on a petition that was also a fundraiser for Cruz, represents the majority of  350 million Americans.  It isn't that the 2 million are a majority, however.  It is that the 2 million are the true believers, so they are the only ones who count.  Is Obamacare really damaging America?  As with a fervent evangelical preacher, it is an open question whether Cruz believes 3 impossible things every day before breakfast, or just claims that he does.  What he believes doesn't matter; what he claims, is that all counts.

Ted Cruz is raising money because that's what evangelical preachers do.  Whether Cruz spends that money on a quixotic quest for the Presidency is almost beside the point.  Collecting the money right now is what matters; how it will be used is another matter, but it will be used for Cruz, not for some larger purpose.  Traveling preachers like Rafael Cruz serve themselves first, and any other group later, if at all.  They belong, not to a denomination, but to the body of "true believers" who are "out there," everywhere and nowhere.   They are doing God's work, which is defined by whatever they think is right, and confirmed by the crowds who pay them to come to town and tell them what they want to hear.   And he is engaged in the battle with evil the same way those preachers are:  from 30,000 feet up, and as an abstract enemy that must be opposed but can never be vanquished.  The itinerant evangelical never has to face a grieving mother and answer why her infant had to die.  The itinerant evangelical never has to comfort a cancer victim, or help a wife deal with her husband's Alzheimer's.  The traveling preacher never meets evil face to face, except in the person of people who think the preacher is the problem.  And then the preacher knows the answer:  he must be doing it right, because that critic is an agent of Satan.  Who else would oppose the rigorous application of God's word in the world?

"The world," of course, consisting solely of the crowds that come to adore the preacher; crowds who, by extension, represent the "real world" of God's people, against the "false world" of the followers of darkness.

Ted Cruz is in this for Ted Cruz.  And he learned at his father's knee just what to do, and how and why to do it.

4 Comments:

Blogger alberich said...

The latter have to marry and bury and console and confront and comfort and cajole and struggle with God's people as surely as God's people struggle with God. The itinerant preacher who never stays long in one place has no such burdens.

Somehow I am reminded of the dénouement of Leap of Faith: what happens when a "miracle worker" finally encounters a miracle?

He never has to stay for a repeat performance, or worry about what to say when the old verities no longer move the same congregation

And now this brings me back to last Yom Kippur, when our synagogue's Rabbi's sermons shocked me: I mostly agreed with them. Forget about how to handle theological and political disagreements with your congregation, what do you do when your congregation starts to agree with you? ;)

11:59 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Forget about how to handle theological and political disagreements with your congregation, what do you do when your congregation starts to agree with you? ;)

Run.

12:28 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

This reminds me of the quote you have used in the past, something like "faith is responsibility or it is nothing at all". To take on pastoral care and comfort the grieving mother or ailing congregant is to be responsible. The same goes for actually running the country. One of the best bits advice I got when I started a real job after college was from my father. He said "you can make points or you can make progress, but you can rarely do both. Very occasionally you need to make a point, but really focus on making progress". Making progress is about being responsible.

1:05 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:06 PM  

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