Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Desperately Sad Book.

I picked up an old  hardback copy of "Baptism of Fire" by Frank Collins in the local thrift shop. It is the story of a brave and battle-hardened  SAS soldier who converted to Christianity, much to his own surprise and the surprise of his wife, family, friends and colleagues.

The first half of the book was a riveting read, dealing with his childhood and his carreer in the army. His SAS training and experiences were of particular interest, but from the point of his conversion - asking God for a sign that He existed- through to several visons which he was convinced were of Jesus, I felt my alarm bells ring and rather perversely, my hackles rise.

He visited an Anglican church in Hereford and was totally baffled, bemused, flummoxed and completely put off by what seems to have been  moderate Anglo-catholic worship.  His subsequent forays into house churches and almost Zvengali like personality led charismatic fellowships left me feeling increadsingly uneasy. Eventually, he "finds " himself as an evangelical Anglican, blithely dismissing all shades of opinion that did not tie in with his own very narrow and somewhat questionable beliefs, and quickly gets fast-tracked into priesthood, feeling that as he is a leader in the army, he must be called to leadership in the church.  His experience with the discernment process made my mind boggle, to be honest.

His forays into private body-guarding work take him abroad, most noticeably to Athens, where he notes that the Greeks are very religious but in his opinion, all their religion is tied into ritualistic worship and he gives them Gospel tracts in Greek. Sigh.

Does he even mention going to visit an Orthodox church , let alone attend a service, and see what makes his colleagues tick  ? No.. He finds some pentecostal and evangelical house churches in Athens to attend instead. 

When a priest, he comments that one woman to whom he administers Communion may have been a witch and exuded an aura of evil, yet he gave her Communion anyway, with no pastoral follow-up, which I found very disturbing. He believes that all people have the **right ** to have Communion, and that the priest's job is not to withhold it.

The words "hubris" and "prelest" became a repeated subtext for\me as I continued to read, but I kept hoping that he would mature as the book progressed.He becomes a chaplain in the army eventually, and I seriously wondered how he was going to settle in that role.

I became increasingly concerned about his emotional  and spiritual well-being, and after finishing the book, felt very strongly compelled to "Google" him to see what Anglican parish he was currently serving in, to see if his views had become mellower and rather more rounded and grounded.

Imagine my distress when I found that only a very short while after the book was published, he had been made to leave the Army because of his book, and had committed suicide in his car, a copy of Tolstoy's "War & Peace" at his feet, leaving behind a wife and four young children.
How desperately sad and ironic.

I could not help but think, Meg, of the loving "de-briefing" and PTSD treatment you depicted Sergei receiving from the Orthodox Church after his war-time experiences, and desperately wishing this poor young man could have had the benefit of similar treatment in the Church as Spiritual Hospital.

It upset me enough that I could not even write this review until a fortnight after finishing the book....... mainstream Anglicanism failed this young man badly. He should never have been ordained in the way he was, without very many more years of spiritual growth, counselling and guidance. If the mainstream Anglican church had been more loving, more welcoming, more approachable, when he first became a Christian, he may not have turned to the fringe groups of Christianity to nurture him as he found his feet in the Christian faith. How many more people has the Christian church (consisting of all denominations) in this country failed ?

I have a sneaking suspicion that this was just one case of many.
Lord have mercy on us all.............
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elizabeth said...

wow; how scary. Lord help us.

DebD said...

that is desperately sad. Protestantism has a very different understanding of spiritual leadership than Orthodox.

Miss Tilney said...

The ACCM procedures in the C of E almost seemed to be set up to be faked. I know several people who essentially lied their way through, mostly by pretending to be trendier than they were, but if you can do that you can pass as well balanced as too. I think it's changed now but it used to be a case of having a degree, a couple of references and impressing a few people on a weekend with no indepth or long-term examination of the candidate's spiritual life or maturity. One acquaintance told me she was accepted with the proviso she "try harder" because she had "issues" but her diocese was desperate to put forward a gay woman. She didn't go through with it and she wasn't a fruitcake but she could have been, she could have been any kind of mentally unstable or worse but they wanted a lesbian and she was the only one around!

Mimi said...

Lord have Mercy, how horrific indeed.

Meg said...

May our Lord have mercy on his soul. Yes, he was badly failed by the Anglican Church; but then, I've known other Protestant denominations that ordain people to the ministry who are manifestly unsuited to the calling.

I've read that in Orthodoxy, any man who *wants* to be a priest is almost automatically disqualified, on the grounds that either he is too arrogant to be a priest, seriously thinking that he can handle the calling, or that he has no idea of what the calling entails.

As for the scene in my book -- I had read that a soldier who comes home from war is often given a penance, on the grounds that having been required to kill has damaged his soul; this also holds true for a police officer who has killed in the line of duty. I have also been told that anyone who causes even an accidental death is given a penance -- in all such cases as therapy to help these people re-order their lives to godliness. Incredible to me, how our Church recognizes the realities of life and doesn't just blow off a person's mental state with, "It's not a sin, it's a requirement of what you do for a living," or worse, "You shouldn't [be a soldier, be a police officer] because these jobs involve taking a life." They still have to be done. And they should *especially* be done by people who recognize the value of human life.

OK, OK, off my soap box now. ;-)

Dave said...

This reminds me of a teaching colleague who is an assistant curate in a large Anglican parish. She is required to go on retreat for on week each year. Her diocese allows for her to go on a Zen retreat led by two Jesuits who are also Zen masters. For most of the week, the chapel is decorated as a Buddhist temple and on Sunday the Buddha is taken away from the front of the altar and replaced by a rose and they celebrate Communion.

s-p said...

Sad. Sad. Sad. Orthodoxy has the right tools, but unfortunately those who should use the tools sometimes don't. We have our own share of goofy, damaged men in the role of clerics. May God have mercy on him and all who are priests and those whom they shepherd. No one is perfect.