May 142018

The Acceptable Sacrifice

New York City is known for its beautiful churches, many of which are open for prayer throughout the day.  A certain Anglican visited his parish church on a busy weekday afternoon.  He wanted to light a candle and say a prayer in a particular chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  From the moment he entered the west doors, even a casual observer could tell that he knew what he was doing. 


As the pledge campaign was approaching, he picked up a pledge card for the Every Member Canvas, extracted an iPhone from his suit pocket, went to the calculator, sorted out ten percent of his income for the church and an additional three percent for the music program. Filling in the lines on the card, he slipped it into his pocket to turn in later in the week.  Turning to an opposite table, he made a mental note to sign up for the next mid-week Bible Study class.  Entering the nave, he moved up the center aisle and reverenced the altar.  Before turning towards the Lady Chapel, he looked in the direction of the sanctuary lamp, deeply bowed and before lighting a candle, which had been his original intention, he slipped into a pew to pray, carefully adjusting his trousers before kneeling so as not to cause wrinkles at the knee.  Flicking a bit of lint from his coat sleeve, he crossed himself, then lifted his hand preparing to shield his eyes and pray.

At that moment, he was distracted as, out of the corner of his eye, he observed some movement in the side aisle.  Turning his head, he watched as a young woman, obviously of a disreputable reputation and line of work, made her way into the chapel.  Her makeup was excessive and her clothing risque. It was clear from her confusion that she seldom frequented places of worship. She neither reverenced the altar nor acknowledged the sanctuary lamp.  In fact, she seemed unable to even lift her head. As she moved closer and looked up for a moment, our man in the pew could see, even in the dim light of the chapel, what appeared to be streaks of tears on her face.  Finally, she moved by him with a hesitant and uneven gait, and settled into a pew some distance away.  

Reflecting upon that which he had seen, the man began to pray.  “God,” he thought, “there’s so much misery in the world.  I’m so thankful that my life isn’t like all the others out there.  My business dealings are honest, my tax returns haven’t been audited for years and while most of my friends have had multiple divorces and affairs (especially Jim at the office – his mind wandered for a moment) I’ve always been faithful. I’m so glad that I’m not like them, or even worse, like that poor woman over there.  God, it’s a lot to be thankful for…”  Suddenly, he heard something that broke his concentration.  The woman, previously silent in her personal grief, was now sobbing, and the sound reverberated off the stone walls and low vaulted ceiling of the chapel.  She did not know how to pray or what words to use, but from the wellspring of distant memory arose a single phrase, “God be merciful to me a sinner”.  Through her tears and with uneven breath, she repeated the phrase again and again, her voice growing softer with every word.

The man kneeling in the pew, his concentration broken, breathed a sigh of importunate resignation, crossed himself, rose, reverenced the altar and made his way toward the street, remembering  along the way (although he had almost forgotten) quickly to light a candle at the small bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child.

The young woman, her tears spent, also arose and made her way toward the back of the church.  She paused, however, along the way when she noticed a statue, bathed in blue light from burning candles.  She saw it was a mother and child, but the look on the mother’s face was arresting.  It seemed to know all the joys and all the pains of life and yet, the face was radiant with love.  She thought of her own unborn child that she would never know, and the tears welled up again.  The young woman, not fully knowing why, lit a candle and beneath her breath again whispered the long forgotten, yet heartfelt words, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. 

Out on the busy city street, the man had already disappeared into the crowd, safe and assured of his place in God’s kingdom and confidant of his own righteousness, though, in some ways, he felt vaguely distracted rather than comforted as a result of the time he had taken from his day.  The woman, who had walked slowly down the steps, almost not wanting to leave, turned to go in the other direction, unsure that her broken words had been heard in that place, yet feeling some intangible sense of peace and knowing, somehow instinctively, that life, her life, could be different.

Of the two, I think the woman went to her home knowing more of God’s presence than the man.  Why? Because those who lay themselves bare to God’s mercy will be covered by God’s love, but those who come dressed in their own sense of righteousness and well-being will find themselves spiritually impoverished, even when they do all the things that we all agree they ought to do. For you see, our God whom we worship, in addition to fulfilling our obligations to his Church and his altar, requires yet one more thing.  It is, unfortunately, something that we all too often lack.  It was something possessed by the young woman in our narrative and by a renegade Jewish tax collector in a far older story, for, as the Psalmist says, “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise…”

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  13 Responses to “The Acceptable Sacrifice: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD”

  1. Good. Thanks.

  2. Duane,
    Do you serve a parish in Indianapolis?

  3. Yes, the Luke 18 Pharisee.

    I once knew, and devotedly followed, a dogmatic Calvinist who attempted to link the 16 Myers-Briggs types to observable neuroscience (also claiming that type is inborn, fixed, and doesn’t change), and that only he and those similar to his own type were capable of consistently typing people the correct way. He further claimed that his own type, the ISTJs, along with the other I__J types, were inherently more moral and better able to follow God’s boundaries, rules, and laws than the more common E__P types.

    He wrote quite a treatise on this subject during the 2012 US presidential election period, where he argued that Mitt Romney was better man than Barack Obama because Romney was a J type and Obama was a P type. ENTP, in particular (the type he assigned to Obama), allegedly accounted for about 50% or more of the populace (in his view; ENTPs are said to account for about 5% of the populace according to most Myers-Briggs estimates), was arguably the most immoral type: manipulative, natural born Hollywood actors, prone to creatively distorting facts and taking them out of context (he said Darwin and evolutionists were all ENTP; Ken Ham, by contrast of course, was an I__J: INTJ), and unable to correctly observe, analyze, or comprehend and follow boundaries, proper contexts, and rules because of their “abstract, conceptual right brain dominance.”

    Curiously, he also claimed Solomon of the Bible was this ENTP type. He said that Solomon, for all his wisdom, was an example of moral failure and why it’s better to just follow boundaries. (Oddly enough, for all of Solomon’s failures, much of what he penned is considered divine Scripture somehow.) He also typed Davis as ENFP, the polar opposite of ISTJ. I’ve always been flummoxed why David could have such a prominent role in Scriptures if he was an immoral type that couldn’t deal with boundaries. I mean, using this guy’s logic, how dare God give such a prominent role to David when he could have such roles to the great, moral, and awesome ISTJ people!

    In all my life, I’ve never met a man so confident of his own morality, so prone to looking down on the common people, and so resistant to consider or hear anyone else’s point of view. He resembles the Luke 18 Pharisee.

    His name is Jon Niednagel. His Brain Types system, which he believed would be the most revolutionary science of the 21st century, is now faltering due to his excessive pride, insularity, and refusal to collaborate with others who would criticize any aspect of his system — none of which he would acknowledge, for remember, he believes he is inherently less sinful than others, and would dodge or evade any responsibility for such, throwing it instead on the E__P masses’ and our alleged inability to rightly comprehend his work.

    (And yes, he said I was a generic ENTP. So are some of his grandsons, whom I pity.)

  4. MTBI has its roots in Jung, and is more the pseudo-science side of psychology than the experimental side (like Transactional Analysis, say).

  5. Niednagel would always explain that he didn’t support Jung’s other work, but that Jung’s work laying the foundation of the 16 type system was actually based on empirical observation and thus worth supporting.

    Niednagel loved empiricism and “observable reality.” Problem is, you can’t come to faith through observable reality; that’s the claim of scientific materialism, not Judeo-Christianity. The abstract conceptual thought processes that he loved to detract are actually necessary not only for understanding metaphor and parable (very common didactic methods used by Jesus and throughout the Scriptures), but also for placing faith in a Deity one cannot see.

  6. #2 Tim

    I attend a small Anglican parish here…

  7. This might develop into a useful thread of comments today…
    2 thoughts jumped into my head
    The brain types? I figured that out in grammar school. Not in a scholarly fashion, of course, but kids show early on their inclinations … Does that have anything to do with who will find redemotion? Only God knows, but it may show one’s bent to be religious etc.
    Also, if one is grateful to God for keeping them from destructive behaviors, i believe that differs from thinking that you are better, i.e., there but for the grace of God, go i…. 😯

  8. Yes, I do think there is something to be said for a degree of inclinations and inherent wiring, and that’s why I was a supporter of the “brain types” for a number of years. I certainly don’t think everything of Niednagel needs to be thrown out, but ranking of types by morality, or excessively focusing on the sins of one type and not your own, are examples of pride, and thus must be thrown out.

    One of their associates thought it less myopic and more helpful to view types as having greater proclivities for certain types of sins more than others, rather than trying to rank types by some kind of global morality scale. Fo for example, the extrovert types would be more prone to sins of commission, while introvert types more prone to sins of omission. Even this approach — more gracious and less prideful than the other, certainly — should also nonetheless be approached cautiously and not too dogmatically, however. For illustrative purposes, I’ll take examples of popularly gendered sins: lust and gossip. Broadly speaking, more men struggle with the former, and more women the latter. But it’s not _exclusive_ to either gender. I’m female and I have a major issue with staring at men that I find physically attractive. It’s been an addiction of sorts ever since I barely hit puberty. I couldn’t find _one_ online community for women who struggle with it even though I’ve seen numerous singular examples of women exhibiting the sin, and that’s because I think our culture has so ingrained the idea that it’s a male sin that we don’t even address those who are the exception to the generality.

  9. I was noting again on social media all the places where pastors were advising folks on how to do anyone of a number of things to have their best life now.

    I can’t do that.

    The process of preparing a message almost always finds me being convicted by whatever text I’m working on…convicted to the point of often thinking I have no business teaching on it.

    The only reason I can is because of the mercy of God…not because I’m holier than who I’m speaking to…

  10. #9 Michael

    The “Jesus Prayer” of “God be merciful to me a sinner” has served the Church well for 2000 years… and I suspect it will continue to do so until the parousia.

  11. Duane- we are in a Baptist Church here on the southside of Indy.

  12. #11 Tim

    Would love to meet up… get my email via Michael

  13. #10

    I really like the Jesus Prayer. I sometimes will chant it to help me realize God’s mercy

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