Belief & Unbelief in Advent


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I mentioned on Sunday that I would be writing about faith and doubt during the season of Advent and Christmas.  Gospel according to Saint Mark records the story of a man that brought his son to Jesus the Christ to be cured of a deadly disease. In desperation the man cries out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.”

I understand that impassioned cry.

That being said, for a lot of people, including me, the season of Advent and Christmas are incredibly difficult and times where faith, already difficult becomes nearly impossible.  For many the season is not a time of joy but depression, sadness and despair. I know feeling well, for it has been the reality that I have lived with since returning from Iraq.

Before Iraq, Advent and Christmas were times of wonder and mystery and I really found it difficult to understand how anyone could be depressed during the season, but that was before I came home from Iraq. After Iraq, the seasons of Advent and Christmas became almost unbearable as I struggled to believe in anything, including God.

I have faith again, but I still struggle to find the same wonder and mystery of the season that I once experienced. I think that the last time I was truly joyful at Christmas and during Advent was in Iraq, celebrating the message of hope among our advisors up and down the Iraqi-Syrian border. I think the most special moment was serving Eucharist to an Iraqi Christian interpreter who had not received the Eucharist in years that Christmas Eve of 2007 at COP South. Somehow in that God forsaken land God seemed closer than any place I have been since.

Since I returned from Iraq my life has been a series of ups and major downs. In dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia as well as my dad’s painfully slow death from Alzheimer’s disease, I have struggled with faith.  Prayer became difficult at best and as I dealt with different things in life I knew that I didn’t have any easy answers.  Going to church was painful. Chaplain conferences even more so, except being with others who struggled like me.  About the only place that I could find solace was at a baseball park.  For some reason the lush green diamond is one of the few places that comfort me.

I find that the issue of doubt is not uncommon for a lot of people, including ministers of most Christian denominations. I am sure that this can be the case with non-Christian clerics as well, but I cannot say that with any deal of authority.

For some Christian ministers and priests the seasons of Advent and Christmas can be difficult. For those of us who are ordained and view ministry or Priesthood as a sacred vocation this can difficult to deal with.  Ministers and others who suffer a crisis in faith, depression or despair endure a special kind of hell this time of year because we are not supposed to suffer a crisis in faith, for any reason.

I believe that for many people, a religious leader who has doubts and struggles with faith is disconcerting.  I know many ministers who for a myriad of reasons experienced a crisis in faith. Sometimes this involved great personal losses such as the loss of a child, a failed marriage or being let go or fired by a church, or experiencing any number of other major traumatic events.  All of these men and women are good people. But when they experienced a crisis, instead of being enfolded by a caring community of faith they were treated as faithless failures, and and abandoned or excluded from their faith community as if they were criminals.

When I was younger I used to look askance at pastors who had given up, lost their faith, or abandoned the ministry for whatever reason.  As a young seminary student and later young chaplain I had a hard time with such situations. They made no sense to me and I was somewhat judgmental until I started to get to know a decent number of “broken” ministers from various faith traditions that a lot more went into their decision than simply not being tough enough to hang in there until things got better.

While I saw this happen to others I never thought it would happen to me. I thought I was “bulletproof” and when it occurred I was stunned. I didn’t expect what happened nor its effect on me.

When I came back from Iraq I came home to find that my office had been packed up and many mementos lost, it took months to find most and there are still important documents that have never been recovered. My wartime accomplishments went unrecognized by most of my peers in the Chaplain Corps on my return home and I found no place of comfort.

As I crashed no one asked about my faith until I met my first shrink. It was after the initial crash that my commanding officers, Captain, now Admiral, Frank Morneau and Tom Sitsch both asked me about my faith.  I told them that I was struggling and both were more understanding than the vast majority of chaplain, ministers, or Christian lay people that I knew. Commodore Sitsch asked me “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”  I could only say, “not to other chaplains.” Sadly I had no idea how much Commodore Sitsch was going through as he ended his life on January 6th 2014, suffering the effects of untreated PTSD and TBI.

On the professional side I felt tremendously isolated from much of the clergy of my former church, and many chaplains. This is something that I still feel to some extent today, although there are some chaplains who I can be completely honest with, sadly, like me, they have also experienced major faith crisis and have struggled with the same kind of abandonment and betrayal that I have felt. I was angry then because I felt that I deserved better, because I had done all that was asked of me for both my former church and chaplain corps.

In the midst of the crisis I appreciated simple questions like “How are you doing with the Big Guy?” or “Where does a Chaplain go to for help?” Those questions showed me that the people who asked them cared.

There were many times between 2008 and 2010 that I knew that I had no faith.  People would ask me to pray and it was all that I could do to do to pray and hoped that God would hear me.  Even the things that I found comforting, the Mass, the Liturgy and the Daily Office were painful, and while faith has returned, some of the of them still are.

That being said, I am still a Christian, or maybe as I noted last week a Follower of Jesus, since the Christian “brand” is so badly tarnished by the politically minded, hateful, power seeking, media whores that populate the airwaves and cyber-space. This makes Advent and Christmas difficult.

Why I remain a Christian is sometimes hard to figure.  I am certainly not a Christian because of the church, what is called Christendom, or the actions of supposed Christians who want to use the police power of government to subjugate others. At the same time like the German priest and theologian Hans Kung “I can feel fundamentally positive about a tradition that is significant for me; a tradition in which I live side by side with so many others, past and present.” Nor am I a Christian because I think that the Christian faith has all of the answers to all of lives issues. After coming home from Iraq I know that it is not so. I have to be painfully honest and say that neither the Church nor Christians have all the answers. That may sound like heresy to some, but I can live with it.

I don’t presume to know God’s will and I can’t be satisfied with pat answers like I see given in so many allegedly Christian publications, sermons and media outlets.  Praying doesn’t always make things better. I remain a Christian in spite of these things and in spite of my own doubts.  I still believe that God cares in spite of everything else, and in spite of my own doubts, fears and failures.

One of the verses of the Advent hymn O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel is a prayer for me this year.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 So now, for those that like me struggle with faith, those who feel abandoned by God, or by family and friends, I pray that all of us will experience joy this season. So I do pray that the Day Spring will come and cheer, all of us with his advent here.


Padre Steve+

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Dehumanization & Genocide


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most terrible things about a national security crisis, real or imagined, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Moslems extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Moslems and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.

David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”

In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.

The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.

One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.

The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts.

But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.

This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”

Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:

“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”

Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss  replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”

But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Moslems. It is not the fact that some Moslems are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Moslems are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

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Advent 2015


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today was first Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the liturgical year in the Christian church. Advent and Christmas have always been my favorite part of the liturgical year, I tend to find them mysterious, yet comforting and hope filled. The past couple of years Advent has been kind of an odd time for me. I have a small chapel at the Staff College but from the end of November to the beginning of January we are out of session, and the largest course that we offer has no students here. Thus with no congregation I do not do services.

I will be sharing some of my journey and my struggles over the coming weeks. Since Iraq, Advent and Christmas are not the same. I believe, but I don’t. I struggle, but still keep faith. I can understand why people struggle with depression during the season. I hope that what I from my heart and experience will encourage others who like me wonder just what the hell is going on sometimes.

So, until the next time.


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Ghost Dog Central


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Time for something a little less serious. People that have read my writings on this site over the past year know that I love dogs, and that my wife and I have had some very interesting furry babies throughout our thirty-two yearlong marriage.

We have two Papillions now, Minnie Scule and Izzy Bella. We had two dachshunds who both lived over 15 years, one of which, our Wire Hair Dachshund, Frieda, paid my wife and I visits after she had to be put down. Frieda, God love her was a total pain in the ass and fought us for sixteen years because she was the alpha dog and we were just the incompetent help. We figured that after that that she had a job helping to run Purgatory.

A few months after we lost Frieda, and we still had our fat smooth hair dachshund Greta, and Judy was at the vet and a lady had a small puppy in her arms that looked to Judy to be a red long hair dachshund. The puppy was a rescue that had been found covered in tar alongside North Carolina Highway 24 near Cape Carteret. Judy told the lady that we had lots of experience with dachshunds and that they could be quirky and gave the lady our number. A few days later the lady called and said she could not keep the puppy as her older dog could not handle her.

We went out and we met the lady and met Molly. Molly was not a full blooded dachshund, but a beautiful mix. When her fur grew out we figured that she was a Papillion-Dachshund mix, and according to many people appeared to be a designer dog. She was beautiful, and had a wonderful personality. It was love at first sight for me, she became “daddy’s baby.”

She, like Judy had to deal with long separations from me as a military pup, and when Greta passed away in 2003 she became an only dog. After I came home from Iraq terribly goofed up, often depressed, hyper-vigilant and sometimes nearly suicidal from Iraq, Molly helped keep me alive. When I was stationed as a geographic bachelor in Camp LeJeune, Judy had a partial Achilles tendon resection, and for about a month had to come down to my place in North Carolina because our home has far too many stairs and she could not navigate them. Of course Molly came with her, and Molly decided that she did not want to go home. Home could not compete with being able to go to the beach, or chase deer and other wildlife which existed right outside my door.

This did not impress Judy and so because we loved Molly’s Papillion temperament we got Minnie. But while I was in North Carolina Molly had to have surgery to remove a painful, but benign tumor from her right shoulder. The surgery was done at the same vet where Judy had Frieda put down when Frieda’s renal failure became acute. I got home with Molly who made a fast recovery and that night I sensed something odd. I sensed Frieda, and I began to see small dog sized shadow figures. Frieda had come back. When Molly and I returned to Virginia, Frieda came with us. I have occasionally felt her presence and seen the same shadow figure. When we came back from North Carolina Molly began to show the effects of Kidney disease as well. In February, knowing that Molly’s condition was getting worse we got our other Papillion, Izzy, a little dog who is very much like Molly, laid back, playful and exceptionally sweet. Though she was blind and sick, Molly was good to Izzy, and Izzy was always sweet to Molly.

We lost Molly on May 11th and it was very difficult, but Minnie and Izzy have been great. Since we lost Molly I have felt Molly’s presence in the house and in the car where we spent so much time together. However, something happened Monday which was fascinating. Molly returned in an unusual way.

Judy goes to help a friend’s little boy get to the bus stop a couple of days a week. To do so she gets up earlier than me and then I get up. I have terrible insomnia and all sorts of weird crazy dreams, and night terrors as a result of my time in Iraq and my battle with PTSD, and mornings are difficult. I was never a morning person, but now I’m really not one. When I was in Carolina, Molly would get up on the bed and if I hit the snooze alarm too many times would either nudge me, kiss me, or bark at me to get me up. Monday I had hit the snooze alarm and as I rolled back over I felt a dog walking on the bed. I thought that either Minnie or Izzy was up so I looked up and there was no dog. So I rolled back over. The alarm went off again and I hit the snooze. A couple of minutes later I felt dog steps on the bed, and then had a nudge in my back. I got up, and since no dogs were there I realized that Molly was back. I thanked her, and got up.

I miss Molly, but it seems that she is going to remain a part of my life, anytime that I hit the snooze too often. 

Call me crazy, but I can live with ghost dogs.


Padre Steve+

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I’m a Black Friday Grinch


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yes the dreaded day has arrived again, at least officially. It is Black Friday, although I think it began at least two weeks ago, at least from the bombardment of advertisements I have had in my e-mail, on Facebook, and one every website I have visited.


I know I may sound a bit like the Grinch right now, but trust me, I love Christmas and the holiday, everything about it. I love the religious significance, especially the humility and weakness of the incarnate Christ in a filthy manger, the child of poor people, away from home who end up having to flee to Egypt save their lives from a maniacal ruler. I guess that it’s a good thing that King Trump or Satrap Christie was were not in charge back then, but I digress…

I also love the secular part of Christmas. Unlike the Grinch who hated everything about Christmas, I love it all, the decorations, the music, even the Who Hash and the Roast Beast. But even more I like the good feelings that people tend to have for each other at this time of year.

But all that being said, there are times that the crass materialism and greed shown by retailers to entice people to buy things that they cannot afford bothers me. So does the Christmas and holiday advertising and store displays that show up even before Halloween, it is nuts. I’m sorry but displays of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Freddy Kruger bringing a turkey with all the trimming to the baby Jesus and his family just seem to demean the season. Somehow vast throngs of people running over each, fighting, and sometimes even killing, to get a bargain as barbaric and a sad commentary on who we are as a nation.

But there is more, to boost their profits that many major retailers are not just opening early on Friday, they are opening on Thanksgiving, the one day when no-matter what their religion that, that people can come together as family, as friends. The retailers who are doing this mock the very thing that they are using to boost their profits. But the fact is that most retail workers work long and often odd hours throughout the rest of the year, and sacrifice much time away from their families as it is. I wonder how anyone can justify taking that one day away from them.

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends. We prepared two turkeys, and all kinds of food, including some vegetarian dishes for one of our friends. It was a feast, and a joy as we sat down and fellowshipped with each other. Today we will pretty much hang out at home and continue to work in the house before going to our local version of the Cheers Bar, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, and again spend time eating and drinking with friends.

I am sure that we will do some shopping at some point, but as much as I love everything about Christmas and the holiday season, I am rather Grinch like when it comes to Black Friday and its intrusion on Thanksgiving.

I hope that your Thanksgiving was good and that you did have the opportunity to spend time with those that you love. And by the way, when you are out today, please be kind to the lowly store clerks and cashiers who maybe didn’t get the day off yesterday, and who are trying do deal with the feeding frenzy like atmosphere of Black Friday. The at least deserve kindness.


Padre Steve+


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Happy Thanksgiving!



Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a note to thank you for your continued readership and to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Today we will be busy cooking and having friends over.

Back tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

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The Unfolding of Miscalculations: Syria 2015

russian jet in flames

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The tensions fuel by the incredibly complex and dangerous war in Syria just when up, as I like to say the “pucker factor” is very high, in fact it is getting close to stage ten. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” and it seems that right now there are whole a lot of miscalculations going on.

Yesterday a Russian Su-24 fighter plane was blasted out of the sky by a Turkish F-16. Reports conflict, Turkey say that the Russian aircraft had violated its airspace multiple times and had been given multiple warnings before the shoot down. The Russians claim that the aircraft was on the Syrian side of the border and that the attack was an unprovoked violation, and Russian President Putin called it a “stab in the back.” Russia is accusing Turkey of backing DAESH, while Russia’s forces, which are supposedly there to fight DAESH are spending more time attacking Syrian President Assad’s non-DAESH Syrian opposition, including Turkoman Syrians fighting the Assad regime in the area where the jet was shot down. Some think that it might be payback for the Russians bombing the faction supported by the Turks.

Admittedly, Turkey has a right to self-defense and the Russians are operating in Syria without any kind of international mandate. That being said, the Russians are there at the behest of the Assad government, which even if we don’t like it is still the legal government of Syria, a long term ally and client of Russia, going back to the old Soviet days.

However, the feud between Russia and Turkey goes back hundreds of years. They hate each other, and this hatred goes back to the days of the Tsars and the Ottomans. The hatred is generations old, and is cultural, religious and political. Maybe that is why we in the west do not understand it, but I digress… 

The fact is that the actions of both nations, as well as most other nations in the West including the United States have helped to stoke the fire of the Syrian war, which is threatening to escalate into a regional conflict. I am not going to go into all the details of what has brought us to this point, because they are too many to cover. Some of course are saying that it could lead to a World War, but I do think that cooler heads will prevail. Of course I could be wrong, as Tuchman wrote, “To admit error and cut losses is rare among individuals, unknown among states.”

It is now time for President Obama to step up to the plate, and not rattle sabers, but to help pull everyone back from the brink. He needs to work with Russia’s President Putin to deescalate the crisis. Since everyone involved has a stake in what happens it Syria it cannot be ignored. The nations involved need to sit down and come up with a way to defeat DAESH and bring peace to Syria and Iraq. Of course this is easier said than done, especially since bullets are flying, blood is flowing, and tensions rising. The fallibility of human beings has been demonstrated time and time again in this war, and as Tuchman wrote in The Guns of August, “Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers – danger, death, and live ammunition.”

In 1962 President Kennedy faced the real possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy had just read Tuchman’s The Guns of August which had just been published. He was shocked by the words of German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg who when asked how World War One started replied “Ah, if only one knew.” Kennedy asked General Curtis LeMay what would happen if the Soviets did not back down, and the officer replied that he would order a nuclear strike. Kennedy could not go down that road, he referred to the book when he remarked, “If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war—if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos and catastrophe—I do not want one of these survivors to ask another, “How did it all happen?” and to receive the incredible reply: “Ah, if only one knew.”

The downing of this Russian jet shows just how easily things can spin out of control. It is time for calmer heads to prevail and walk this back before things get really out of hand.


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