Poverty Prevention: 5 car buying tips

64 Studebaker

’64 Studebaker “Wagonaire.” V8 and a wicked sweet roll back roof.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

Occasionally I wander off script and into the weeds. This is one of those days…

Automotive industry pitchmen and those who have just dropped big scratch on a new car insist, “An old car will cost you money!” Reality check: New cars are almost always more expensive to own than old ones. A lot more! Let me, a man who has owned far too many cars, make my case by sharing the financial results of my many automotive indiscretions…

Total Ownership Cost (purchase + repairs – sale price)

New (2 years old or less): 5 cars. Loss: $48,000 (avg loss: $9,600 per car)

Old (more than 10 years old): 6 Cars. Loss: $9500 (avg loss: $1580 per car)

Ancient (more than 20 years old): 13 cars. Loss: $1400 (avg loss: $110 per car)

Notice that every additional decade of age cut the cost to own by approximately a factor of 10.

Conclusion: Driving a beater will save you money!

Car buying advice for those on a budget

1) Don’t buy a car you can’t afford. If you can’t pay cash you can’t afford it!

2) Don’t throw away money on depreciation. If you buy a car that is anywhere close to new the depreciation will cost you piles of money.

3) Buy a car that is uncool. If you buy a car that is or ever was a status symbol you will pay too much.

4) Buy a car that was dependable when it was new. An undependable car is always undependable (like Rover or anything made in Europe with that cool engineering). Buy cars made in the right continents…i.e. any continent not named “Europe.” This will save you PILES of money for each part that will continue to break. If all you want is dependability then buy Japanese. However, the cost of Japanese cars on the used car market is relatively high because of their reputation for dependability. If you want cheap and dependable:

5) Look for old American iron that was well cared for. I have driven several hundred thousand miles on old American cars without a major breakdown.

In Summary

Buy a well maintained, fully depreciated car (10 years or older), that no one wants (like a 4 door), and you won’t get hurt financially. If the 1980 Cutlass that you paid $1200 for dies after 2 years of $50 bucks a month worth of repairs who cares! You are only out $2000. If you had bought a new Toyota Matrix (like I did) you would have spent close to $300 per month in payments, watched your car insurance double, paid 10X the $20 per year for tags on a Rambler from the ‘60’s and lost another $5000 in depreciation. Over the first 2 years of owning a Toyota Matrix it cost more than four times what the Rambler cost per mile to drive! Finally,

6) Don’t buy a car from someone who has to make a profit on it (like a car dealer). Oh yeah, and every mistake I have made buying cars was from making the decision too quickly, so…

7) Wait until tomorrow to buy that car you really want. Take a day to think about it. Take it to a mechanic and have them make a grocery list of things that are wrong (so you can negotiate and deduct them from the price). Go home and check online at kbb.com and edmunds.com for the cars value. Mostly, don’t rush and make an expensive decision on emotion. If you do it will cost you. You will buy something way too expensive (like the really nifty VW Passat I once bought) or miss something big (like a rusted out floor pan) or buy something just plain bad (like the’62 Ranchwagon I bought on a whim).

Or you could just do what my cousin did: after spending years driving new European status cars he found a really nice underpriced older Lexus 4 door. He paid $6000 for it. He has driven it for 5 years, made no repairs other than brakes and a battery, and is still in it for less than it’s worth. Now all you have to do is find a clean $6000 Lexus. Good luck with that.

But even if you are still reading, I’ll bet you a tenspot you won’t follow my advice. You will rationalize buying a shiny sporty new thing on the grounds that you will save money on repairs and the improved gas efficiency. You will go out and find a car you can’t afford. You will buy it from a car dealer who will make a fatty of a commission on you, and then even more when you finance this status symbol. Then you will pay thousands more in tax. All so that you can start paying the expensive annual tags and monthly insurance premium increases….but you have all that spare money sitting around, so you can afford the $10 bucks you now owe me.

Pay up.

Some of the Cars I’ve Owned…
61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry.

61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry. Here it is exploding with YL boys after a bikeathon.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

A ton of steel and a half ton of chrome. It was illegally exported to Saudi Arabia.

The person who bought it illegally exported it to Saudi Arabia.

61 Rambler 6. I drove four Ramblers at a profit.

61 Rambler 6 with push button tranny. I have owned four Ramblers – all at a profit.

Volvo 1800 ES. Like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems. Volvo was a mistake I made three times.

Volvo 1800 ES. A great car that I made money on. But like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems.

68 Rambler Rogue

68 Rambler Rogue

A very nice ride

A very nice ride

Full size Jeep and a 240 Turbo coupe

Full size Jeep and a Volvo 240 Turbo coupe

I didn't own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

I didn’t own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

-74 VW Super Beetle. Sunroof & an AC that never worked well (I broke even).
-61 VW Microbus. Bought it in a junkyard. Put 60K on it. (Made $400)
-78 Honda Civic Wagon. Cute, but only a 60k mile engine. (Lost $200).
-88 Suzuki Samarai. They were brand new. A well engineered toy…absolutely no power. One rear ender totaled it. A new car (I lost 6k bucks over 3 years).
-87 Nissan Sentra. Kari’s car. Nearly as underpowered as the Suzuki. Another new car: (lost 8k over 5 years).
-48 Packard. Beautiful. Everything about it screamed quality. The straight 8 might have had the best engine notes ever. (Lost $1500 over 5 years).
-62 Rambler Classic. (pic). Great car. Push button automatic tranny, but no AC. (Made $600 on it)
-63 Rambler Wagon. Had AC. Fred Flintstone could’ve driven it though: I learned about rust when my foot went through the floorboard. (Lost $300).
-63 Ford Ranch Wagon. A terrible car straight from the factory AND worn out. I just wanted to buy a car that day. (Lost $200).
-71 Oldmobile Cutlass sedan. Another bad car. How did GM sell them? And why did I buy it??? (Lost $400).
-64 Rambler Classic. 3 on the tree. Good condition. No AC. It was such a good car I drove it 2 1/2 years anyway. (Made $500).
-64 Studebaker Wagonaire. A very cool car! Installed AC. Drove it 7 years and 70K. Lost $3200 (only about $40 per month!) because of money spent on the paint and AC.
-91 Dodge Spirit. Another Kari Car. Strong 6 cylinder. Went 140k miles before a major repair! (Lost 8k over 5 years: really good for a new car)
-93 Chrysler Grand Caravan. Kari’s kid hauler. A complete lemon. Even found a union statement under the carpet insinuating that employees were sabotaging cars. (Lost 6k over 2 years)
-74 Volve ES. Very cool car. In great condition. Someone offered more than I paid. I should’ve said no. Made $800)
-96 Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon. Great Seats, Great Motor. Loosened my fillings going over man hole covers. Kari’s. (Lost 3k in a year)
-84 Volvo 240 Turbo Coupe. A pretty cool car. AC, sunroof, 5 speed. After 2 yrs of constant repair I gave up on it. I ran into the girl who bought it 2 years later. She hadn’t spent a penny. Terrible AC. (Lost 3k in 2 years)
-87 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A friend gave it to me for free. A nightmare of vacuum hoses and 10 mpg. I had three fender benders in it: did thousands in damage to each of the other guys. Scratched the paint on me. Mostly Kari’s while I drove the 240T. (Lost $3500 in 2 years)
-2001.5 VW Passat Wagon. V6. Leather. Loaded! Incredible technology. Broke weekly. I learned my lesson on new cars. (Lost $13,000 in 3 years)
-2003 Toyota Matrix. Kari’s car. Needed a rebuild at 170k! (And depreciated $9000 in the first 4 years)
-1998 Chevy Suburban. 4wd. Solid. Holds 8 kids but has power for 20…A gift from a friend!
-1968 Rambler Rogue. 290 V8. AT, PS, AC, power front disc brakes, solex windows, electric wipers/washers. A very nice little car. (I over paid: $5,000, spent about 1200k more and sold it for $6700)
-2000 Ford Expedition. V8, Power everything. Another gift. It has needed $2100 worth of work, but we have put 30,000 miles on it, which isn’t too bad.
-1991 Pontiac Firebird. A base model. Luke’s car. Total invested: $2050. Totaled last week while parked. Settled for $2440.

On the commemoration of St. Catherine of Siena

st-catherine-of-siena

Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

Love transforms one into what one loves.” Dialogue 60

In a day where people complain that they cannot be a super man or a super woman, we have Catherine of Siena: The original renaissance woman. Catherine was mystic, prayer warrior, nurse who tended to the patients other nurses refused to see, social activist, ambassador to and from popes, doctor of the church, and pastor extraordinaire. Catherine’s advice was sought far and wide by bishops, kings, merchants, scholars and peasants. More than 400 of her letters to these souls remain. Catherine perfected the art of kissing the Pope’s feet while simultaneously twisting his arm. The secret to her great spiritual power and energy? A deep and intimate connection to God she described as a “mystical marriage” with Jesus.

“The soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.” Dialogue 2

If you would like to sit at the feet of one of the few to be both mystic and doctor, you can buy her Dialogue for the “instruction and encouragement of all those whose spiritual welfare was her concern,” on Kindle for a dollar. Or better yet, go for “Top Seven Catholic Classics” and get her along with Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God), St. John of the Cross (Dark Night of the Soul), St. Teresa of Avila (Interior Castle), Thomas A’Kempis (The Imitation of Christ), Bernard of Clairvaux (On Loving God) and the Cloud of Unknowing for $5.

“To the servant of God, every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.” Letter T328

A prayer of St. Catherine’s:

Holy Spirit, come into my heart; draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God, and grant me charity with filial fear. Preserve me, O ineffable Love, from every evil thought; warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love, and every pain will seem light to me. My Father, my sweet Lord, help me in all my actions. Jesus, love, Jesus, love. Amen.

What’s so “Good” about Good Friday? A lot of truth in one little word

Good Friday 2015.001

Snark MeterrealMID.003

What’s so “good” about Jesus Christ’s death? Why would we commemorate such a thing?

Here is what one of Jesus’ first and closest followers, Peter, wrote about his death several years later:  “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” (Peter 3:18, NRSV) Consider the implications of that one little pronoun, “for” in this single sentence. “For” occurs in our English translation 3 times. In the Greek New Testament, however, these are three different words.

  • “FOR sins” is “peri” – “concerning” or “about” – We get “perimeter” from this world. This is “about” in terms of “encircling.”
  • “once FOR all” is a single Greek word: “hapax” which is, “a single occurrence that won’t happen again.”
  • “the righteous FOR the unrighteous” – “huper” – for the sake of, on behalf of.”

There is a lot of theology in those three little prepositions: Jesus suffered to “encircle” our sins, in a “one time act”, a righteous replacement “for your sake.”

All of which is pretty darn “good.”

Holy Week for Newbies (Rebroadcast from last year)

Holy Week.001

Snark Meter.005

A primer for those wondering what all the hubbub is about.

Holy Week, in a nutshell, is a spiritual retreat without leaving home. Remember summer youth camp? You had an authentic, transformative experience of God in a group of others having the same experience. You came home connected to those people and God in a new way. You thought, “That was fantastic. I am different and I can hardly wait to come back next year.” Holy Week is a lot like that.

Holy Week is series of liturgical experiences that walk us through the final week of Jesus’ life. We journey with Jesus, in the short span of a week, from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the missing guard unit, neatly rolled grave clothes, and the shocking appearance of a risen Savior. In a symbol and story impoverished culture, Holy Week opens our hearts to the gift of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This is more than a psychological remembrance, it is actively allowing ourselves to be in that final week, baptized (immersed) into his death…”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? …in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:3-4)

Holy Week is sacramental

…and we are sacramental creatures. Regardless of any initial reaction you may have to that word, hear me out. A sacrament is a tangible symbol that creates what it signifies. Like kissing. When you first kissed that special someone on the doorstep at the end of the evening, it did more than represent thinking the girl was pretty and nice and that you enjoyed talking with her. It actually created and amplified those feelings. You walked back to your car more emotionally connected to her than you were when you opened her door a brief moment earlier.  And when her front door clicked shut, you fist pumped the air. “Heck, Yeah!” Because that kiss actually made more of what it signified.

So God gave us, fleshly, sacramental, critters that we are, a God who came in flesh. Who lived. Who breathed. Who touched us and was touched by us. Who walked willingly to a criminal’s cross, laid down, spread his arms wide for humanity, and waited for real nails to pierce his hands and feet. It is because you too are flesh and blood that you should engage in Holy Week…because Holy Week creates what it signifies: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10)

A current reality

The ancient prayers point us to the deep mystery in this: It isn’t “Christ rose.” It is “Christ isrisen!” Holy Week is a current reality. A more real reality. So we do more than meditate on these holy mysteries. We allow them to become true within us, as our baptism is true within us. We join him on Maundy Thursday in His Last Supper. We are with him on Friday in His death. We keep prayerful watch before His tomb on Saturday. With growing anticipation we mark His descent into Hades and His trampling of death by His death. Finally, with shouts of joy, we greet His resurrection on Sunday morning, knowing that one day it will be our resurrection too. In Holy Week, as Orthodox priest Fr. Steven Freeman says, “The life to come becomes the life we live.”

A “deep mystery,” it should be said, is not magic. We must surrender to the prayers and liturgy – faith must be lived. In the end, Holy Week isn’t something we do. It is something that does us.

So what is the hubbub? 

Holy Week is more than an emotionally powerful experience. It is an opportunity for a greater sanctification. As Paul said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8) Or, as an Arnold Swarzenegger character once said, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Do yourself a favor, make time to engage in Holy Week, especially the three-day “Triduum”: The despair of Golgotha on Good Friday, the muted sorrow of Saturday, the joyful Baptisms at Saturday’s Great Vigil, and the surprise of a risen Savior on Easter morning.

Almighty God, who through your only‑begotten Son Jesus Christ, overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life‑giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Holy Week Sched 2014 Blog

Marshawn Lynch cast as Jesus in new made for tv biblio-epic…

Marshawn 1.001

Snark MeterHIGH.001

Caveat: A sarcastic/April Fools/Tuesday in Holy Week/on the verge of blasphemous offering…

On this day 2000ish years ago Jesus was being repeatedly interrupted as he taught, hazed by the different groups of religious leaders. But what if Jesus were not the prince of peace? Have you ever wondered how Tuesday in Holy Week might have gone if Jesus had gone “Beast Mode”? Here is the script from tonight’s Netflix special on Holy Week with Marshawn Lynch cast as Jesus, limited to only giving answers from his Super Bowl week press conferences (Marshawn in italics)…

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matt. 21: 23)

Jesus replied, “I’m all about that beast mode.”

23 They asked. “And who gave you this authority?”  Jesus replied, “Yeah.”

Confused, the Pharisees repeated the question.

24 Jesus said, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things: Do you have any skittles?

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you…aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Jesus answered them, “I’m just about that action boss.”

When the Pharisees looked confused, Jesus said, “I’m just here so I don’t get…fined.”

The Herodians replied, “Um, Jesus, I am not sure you answered the question.

So Jesus answered more slowly, “I’m…just…here…so…I…don’t…get…fined.”

The Pharisees grumbled amongst themselves…

Knowing what they were thinking, Jesus replied, “Cause they continue to ask me the same question. I have to give the same answers.

22:23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

29 But Jesus answered and said to them, …“You have two more minutes to look at me.”

23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “I’m thankful. “Thank you for asking about my stomach. And, “I appreciate it.”

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied, “I’m going to sit here for the next 20 seconds. And look at you same way you looked at me. We’re done here. 

22:31 The people were amazed at his teaching. So Jesus said, “Shoutout to my real Africans,”

26:3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high pries…4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.

Actually, Jesus did go into beast mode later that week before Pontius Pilate. When Jesus answered Pilate’s query in John 19, “Are you king of the Jews?” Jesus answers, 34“Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about Me?” And, 37 “You say correctly I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world.”

And when you think about it, Jesus saying, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32) is not really that much different from him saying, “You know why I’m here. I’m…just…here…so…YOU…don’t…get…fined.”

marshawn 2.001

The Justice-ification of the Church: Where we went wrong and how we can do better

witches

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

Years ago a Catholic priest from India told me, “Ghandi said, ‘I look at Jesus and I want to be a Christian. But then I look at the lives of Christians…and I don’t want to be a Christian.‘”  The great scandal of the church, for Ghandi and for us, is the troubling lack of love shown by those of us who call ourselves “Christian.”

Having made pilgrimage to the Holy Land this spring, I was astonished at how small it is: The events in the Gospels can mostly be seen from each other: Bethphage, the village from which Jesus had the disciples borrow a donkey and her colt, is on the Mount of Olives. From this hill you can look across the narrow valley and over the Brook Kidron at the walls of Jerusalem and the gate Jesus rode through on the day we call Palm Sunday. The temple, from whose courts all four Gospel writers record Jesus casting the money-changers, was just inside the city wall. When Jesus entered the temple and focused on the failings of the religious establishment rather than shake his fist at the Roman occupiers whose Antonia fortress stared down into the Temple grounds, Jesus set the stage for the crowd’s turning on him when he stood before Pontius Pilate five days later. You can walk the Via Dolorosa, along which Jesus carried his cross to the place of crucifixion in minutes. The spot where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried are also remarkably close – so close that both the location of the crucifixion, Calvary, and Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb are under the same roof today. It is stunning how little geography God used in the great saving acts of his Son.

Scandalous also is how small the distance between, “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Crucify Him!”

In the Gospels this took five days. In the Episcopal Church our liturgy places both the Palm Sunday and Good Friday scripture readings on the same day. My guess is that this is, in part, an acknowledgment that many will not prioritize attendance at the commemorations of our Lord’s redeeming acts in the Paschal Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But it is also an acknowledgement of basic human nature: The distance between celebrating someone and demonizing them is also remarkably short – because, as humans, we have a remarkable capacity for…small.

With just a little dollop of disappointment we can move from kindness to vitriol in a single motion. We look for scapegoats, rush to judgments, and hold others in bondage with binary thinking. We litmus test and sort people into categories of our own devising. And we wish those short of wholehearted endorsement of the platforms we embrace cast into outer darkness. A few exhibits:[1]

  • Several months ago at lunch I overhear the animated conversation between a socially active pastor of another mainline denomination and an atheist college professor sharing our table. The pastor labeled group after group, “Evil!” until the atheist professor finally asked him, “Where’s the love, man?”[2]
  • A student asked me to breakfast the next morning and confessed (tearfully) that he was considering leaving the seminary. He was trying to grow in prayerfulness and was told that his pleas for his fellow students to act in love toward others was evidence of insufficient commitment to the social causes espoused by his peers. He was certain he would never gain their acceptance.

A progressive friend posted on Facebook several weeks ago, “I am uncomfortable that my church’s stance on every issue seems to completely mirror the culture.” I think he is right…

…but I am not nearly so nervous about aping the culture as I am about the next exit on this highway: the justice-ification of the church.

The conflation of church and culture is surely foolish, and I think, also small. But there is a great Protestant tradition of church by focus group. What I cringe at is the way Christians (progressive Christians in particular, but we are not alone in this), have managed to systematically turn social causes into “justice issues.” We do this with seemingly little self-awareness of the ramifications of these crusades. When we label an issue “justice” we stop working for sensible public solutions and begin brandishing swords. This is never so clear as on social media…

We call the press, issue positions, and forward polemics on our Facebook feeds.

But in the public sphere in a pluralistic society there will always be those who do not endorse our worldview. Can we make room for them? Can we “seek to understand before being understood”? Can we begin with the presumption that people are generally of good will and work from there toward solutions? What if, instead of “justice,” we argued our great disagreements starting with, “How do we find a ‘win’ for everyone?” And, “What will lead to human thriving?” Or better yet, remember that the church is first and foremost a place to worship Jesus Christ. How did the church become ground zero for the activism industry?

“But Matt,” you say, “justice is biblical. The Old Testament prophets spoke truth to power.” Yes, but you are not a biblical prophet, and this is not 2600 years ago. In our day “justice” is not helpful because it can never make room for another. Enraged justice usually results in the shaking of fists and mobs with torches in the night. When we drop the “justice” card then someone is guilty…and they must be punished. “Justice” is not served until the evil is purged.

When we label a disagreement “justice” it generally ends one place: “Burn the witch!”

But I do see examples of hope in the emerging generation of leaders: Two weeks ago a friend who is active in LGBT politics asked me if I would organize a meet and greet between an LGBT political action group and evangelical pastors. Yesterday seventeen young evangelical pastors and thought leaders met with Matthew Vines and others engaged in promoting same-sex marriage. While there was clear theological disagreement, it was a time of relationship building, healing, and mutual respect. Here is another: Next week I will be at a luncheon in the Roman Catholic bishop’s office to discuss spiritual unity between evangelicals and Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is a short way down the hill to Jerusalem. It is a short way from the cross to the tomb. It is a short way from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”

But it is also a short way the other direction.

Going from “Crucify!” to “Hosanna!” is the exact same distance. It does take more work, but the Prince of Peace went up to Jerusalem and was crucified so that no one else need be.

Next week we will celebrate the forgiveness of both human and institutional sin on the cross. We could join Jesus in the way of that cross, extending our arms in love to all who are near. Perhaps if we did that, those who are far will see and notice. And the scandal of the church will be swallowed in the scandal of the cross.

As that old Indian priest said that day, “I implore you. Make Ghandi wrong. Be Easter people. May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ so shape and form you that all the world would see his mercy.

 

[1] Out of politeness I will only use examples from my own tribe. Evangelicals and Catholics will be able to think of many of their own examples.

[2] These evils included fracking, pipeline building, driving petroleum based cars, failure to recycle, and the fact that Darren Wilson had not been lynched. (The pastor was white.)

 

Will The Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up?

patrick_shamrock_0Snark Meter.005

Before you hoist a green one, what do you know of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland?

For starters, he was neither Irish nor a saint…at least never canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Born around 390, Patrick’s parents were Romans living on the Welsh coast. Patrick came from a family of both economic means and Christian faith: His father was a deacon and his uncle a priest. As a boy, Patrick was taught the faith, but it didn’t take.

At 15 he was stolen by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. Working as a shepherd, Patrick was often hungry and near freezing. One night, since Patrick would not come to God, God came to him, “The Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that…I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.” (Confession)

After 6 years God came to him again in a dream and told him, “Your boat is ready.” Patrick fled, successfully evaded capture for some 200 miles and stowed aboard a ship to England. Safely at home, he decided to repay God for his rescue by becoming a priest.

After years in “the forests and on the mountain…in the snow, in icy coldness…hunger,” and “attacks from Satan,” his family was glad to have him home. However, a safe ministry in Britain was not to be Patrick’s way. God interrupted Patrick with yet another dream in which the Irish people begged him, “Come walk among us again.

In 432 Patrick returned to minister to those who held him in servitude. As the result of this calling, and bolstered by a highly developed theology of evangelistic duty, Patrick went to the pagan northern and western regions of Ireland where there had been no previous Christian witness. He began by sharing the faith with kings and chieftains. His ministry was highly unorthodox for his time: Usually bishops were sent in response to existing Christian communities. Patrick, however, was the first to bring the Gospel to this land. Wildly successful, he remained in Ireland for the remaining 30 years of his life. Thousands were converted and many clergy ordained to extend his work.

It was not all fun and games either: Christian raiders from Britain killed a group of newly converted Irish men and stole their women into slavery while still in their baptismal robes. As a former slave, Patrick understood the evil of slavery and argued forcefully for their return, asking that the tithes on their ill-gotten gain be refused and his letter condemning the raiders be read in church every Sunday until they released the women.

Patrick was, arguably, the most significant pioneer missionary of the early Western church. By 400 AD, the West was already developing a Rome-centric clericalism. Clergy just did not run off to foreign lands in 430 AD. Not since the Apostle Paul, who said, “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation,”[1] had there been a self-selecting missionary in the West. Patrick’s mission was also the first recorded effort to build Christianity outside of the wall of the Roman Empire without having first been invited.[2] Patrick built churches much closer to the New Testament model of engagement with the world, rather than the retreating church of the monastic model that would emerge in the rest of Europe to cope with the dark ages.

Patrick’s ministry, as revealed in his Confession, highlight many lessons for Christians today:

  1. He knew the Grace of God. Patrick knew that he was a sinner and that it was God’s grace that redeemed him and compelled him to ministry.
  2. He listened to God. We have five recorded dreams in which he heard God speak to him. God drew Patrick’s heart, and Patrick moved his feet in response.
  3. He relied on the powerful testimony of God’s action in his life to rally others.
  4. He knew the Scriptures well and either alluded to them or quoted from them overtly in nearly every verse of his Confession.

Patrick’s missionary methods are also instructive for the church today:

  1. Go: He felt compelled to “Go into all the earth” and focus on those who had previously not heard the Good News.
  2. Engage: Patrick learned the language and the culture- and adapted his methods to communicate to that culture without compromising the Christian message. (Using the shamrock to communicate the trinity…which might actually be apocryphal.)
  3. Stand: He stood up for justice and identified with the people he was called to serve. (The stolen women incident.)
  4. Reach: He intentionally and boldly evangelized kings and persons of influence.
  5. Reproduce: He called people to personal conversion and developed indigenous leaders. These are the hallmarks of effective missionaries throughout history.

We see in Patrick, much more than an excuse to drink green beer. Patrick was a man confident in the God who both called and used him mightily. He moved and ministered fearlessly in response to that call. Ironically, 150 years later it was the spiritual descendants of Patrick, Brendan, who saved Christianity in Europe, but that is another story for another post.

Surely Patrick’s life and ministry make March 17th, the anniversary of Patrick’s death, a day worth celebrating. He was a fearless lover of God who would go anywhere and do anything to reach people for Jesus.

Perhaps, as we lift a green one in Patrick’s honor, we would be challenged to follow his example.


[1] New American Standard Bible, (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1995; reprint, 1995). Romans 15:20-21

[2] Justo Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, vol. One (Peabody, Mass: Prince Press, 1984). Ulfilas mission to the Goths in the 75 years earlier had come at the Goths invitation. Gonzales, 218.